Pati Hernandez’s Facebook page recently sent her a reminder about where she was two years ago — in a practicum classroom as an education student. The reminder was fitting as graduation looms and considering that classroom experience solidified her aspirations of becoming a teacher.
In that class, Hernandez became particularly fond of a young boy. His family struggled with drug addiction, and sometimes he didn’t make it to school at all. Hernandez’s mentor teacher admitted to sneaking clothes into the boy’s backpack.
“I looked up to the teacher,” Hernandez said. “She was able to give the whole class what they needed, but still had care and love for that special student.”
Hernandez bonded with the boy too. He taught her as much or more than she could teach him.
“That experience really showed me what it is like to be a teacher. Not only did I feel it in my heart, but I felt students like him needed people like me.”
Hernandez says she always knew she wanted to become a teacher, but as a youth, the question remained whether she would have the opportunity. Hernandez is a first generation high school and soon-to-be college graduate. As a student at Boulder High School, the University of Colorado Boulder campus was in her backyard yet it seemed so far away.
Hernandez was determined to enroll in college courses, but she never considered applying to CU-Boulder until an advisor for her school’s Adelante Latino/a mentoring program encouraged her to apply and covered the application fee. When Hernandez received her acceptance email, she didn’t believe it. She took it to the advisor for a second opinion.
“She assured me that I got in, but I still didn’t believe it,” she said. “It was surreal and even more surreal that I am still here. At one point, I didn’t think it was possible to graduate high school. CU was never in my wildest dreams.”
She admits the past few years have not always been easy. She has a young daughter and her husband faced serious immigration proceedings during her sophomore year forcing her to take a break from school. Many peers and some instructors were not understanding. She sought refuge in an advisor Ceci Valenzuela, her Latina sorority, the Educational Diversity Scholars program in the School of Education, and a specific course led by Professor Elizabeth Dutro.
“I felt truly comfortable in that class even though I was the only person of color,” she said. “Many educators of color I know have to talk through experiences. If I wasn’t able to talk through it, I think I could have been scared off.”
Dutro is one of many supporters who is pleased that Hernandez persisted. “How fortunate are we that Pati Hernandez chose to be a teacher,” Dutro said. “The children in Pati’s classroom find an advocate and a mentor who recognizes and values the rich experiences they bring with them to school.”
Post graduation, Hernandez aspires to pay it forward by hopefully returning to her home school to teach. She fondly remembers a second grade teacher who “transformed the classroom into an ocean or rainforest.” She hopes to bring similar creativity and inspiration to other students.
“To think that it’s possible that I could be hopefully teaching in my alma mater with the same teachers and community, is awesome,” she said. “What fuels my heart is working with kids of color who need to see other faces of color as professionals and mentors.”
To underscore her indisputable drive to succeed, Hernandez will also begin a Master’s program through the School of Education’s BUENO Center beginning this summer. For now, she is focused on what matters at present: her family, her student teaching, and, of course, crossing the stage at graduation before her cheering section of family, friends, and former teachers.