A new home, new job, and new culture.
Each was a transition that KIPP Academy West instructor Kathy Hernandez experienced when she left the Northeast.
“I was born and raised in New York City,” Kathy said. “I went to college in upstate New York (Rochester Institute of Technology). This is the first time I’d lived outside of New York.”
For Kathy, making eye contact with strangers and having people ask: ‘how are you?’ was uncommon. “It was an adjustment,” Kathy said. “You have to drive everywhere here. In New York, you walk everywhere. Public transportation is not a thing in Houston. I had to buy a car, and I had never driven.”
Before joining the KIPP Academy West staff, Kathy worked two years with City Year, one of the largest programs in the country run by AmeriCorps. There, she daily visited public schools and led interventions with students struggling in third, fourth, and through fifth grade. The intervention sessions were always less than an hour and Kathy never left feeling satisfied. “I kept wishing that I was with them longer,” she said. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘I wish I wasn’t with these kids for only 45 minutes a day, I wish I was able to be with them all day and really get deep into a lesson with them.”’
With her New York students enduring extreme situations at home, she exited City Year well-prepared. “Everybody has been through something (in life), but you’re coming from a group of kids that did not have anything,” she said. “A lot of the students in New York come from poverty. Because I met those students, and built relationships, I was able to transfer that to my new job in Houston.”
BECOMING PART OF THE TEAM & FAMILY
Kathy heard about KIPP while living in New York. And once she did, she immediately became intrigued with its mission and standards for excellence. She then applied for KIPP’s Graduate Teaching Fellowship and was accepted. “KIPP is very unique in how much they emphasize (Team & Family),” Kathy said. “It’s weird, I feel like the kids are my babies. I feel like you’re always thinking about each other. You’re always pushing each other to improve and grow.”
Describing her teaching style as firm and warm, Kathy never wants her students to view her as a mother figure. She instead focuses on individual student growth and each student engaging in class discussions. “Growth results are important during the year,” she said. “I want everyone to participate. I want everyone to feel like ‘I can get this question right.’”
Kathy’s classes are performing at a high level under the Wheatley curriculum. The curriculum encourages a balanced approach to literacy instruction that includes close reading, independent reading, language study, and writing every single day.
“My focus is making sure the skills are transferrable,” Kathy said. “I need to be a lot more intentional about what I’m teaching. My summer is going to be a lot of internalization of the Wheatley curriculum.”
In August, Kathy will return to KIPP Academy West to begin her third year of teaching. Every day she becomes more comfortable as a teacher and every day more comfortable as a Houston resident. “I decided to move to Houston because of KIPP,” she said. “I ultimately decided that I really wanted to be at a KIPP school.”
The move has worked, and Kathy couldn’t be happier to have found a new home.