As a Modesto High School student, Fernando worked with 21st Century Afterschool Programs’ Karen Jordan, whose mentorship helped Fernando develop a belief in his abilities in teaching mathematics. He then attended Modesto Junior College while continuing to work with students in the after-school program. Upon transferring to CSU Sacramento, his skill and experience in teaching lead to numerous opportunities to teach in campus programs that support underrepresented minorities in the university, including the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program. He also found a devoted mentor in Dr. Lisa Taylor, his calculus professor. Furthering his confidence in his own abilities, Fernando pursued a second major in Mathematics, and deepened his belief in the power of mentors to impact lives.
Fernando graduated with a dual BA in both Mathematics and Liberal Studies from Sac State, the first in his family to attend college. Soon thereafter he earned a teaching credential and began teaching mathematics in 2010 at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, a campus with a diverse student body and a history of issues characteristic of underserved schools. It was here that he turned his talents as a teacher and his belief in the value of mentoring to work. After a dozen years at the school, he looks forward to continuing to expand connections between Hiram Johnson High School students and staff with those at Sac State.
Fernando has become a member of the School Site Council, PTSA, ELAC, and has supported his colleagues districtwide on the Sacramento City Teachers’ Union Bargaining Team as certificated and classified staff persevered through the eight-day strike in 2022 with the support of families and community elected officials. He has been recognized by CSU Sacramento for over a decade of contributions to the university EOP learning community. Fernando led his site in piloting the QRAT math course and serves to mentor other teachers statewide. Most recently, he has collaborated with Sac State professors Sayonita Ghosh Hajra and Abigail Higgins to roll out two efforts: the Saturday Math Gymnasium, a program developed for Hiram Johnson High School students to connect directly with Sac State mentors through engaging mathematics activities and challenges; and Math Tutoring Buddies, where high school students are able to receive direct support live online from Sac State students, a crucial support for students during the COVID era.
Having competed in weightlifting in college and having been a certified trainer, Fernando started an Olympic Weightlifting club at HJHS to give students more individual attention, connection, and the tangible experience of successful progress toward their goals. Through this club, he invested himself in lasting relationships with his students, making a positive difference during a crucial time in their young lives. He expanded opportunities for more students by developing a hiking club to lead students through experiences in California’s state and national parks. He also extended this opportunity to teachers across different disciplines in the school as well to help further understanding between students and staff.
Fernando enjoys facilitating the opportunity for students to push themselves beyond what they knew was possible. In the same way, he enjoys refining his craft, always learning new things and developing his own skill. His advice to people looking to teach today’s youth is to have a willingness to teach knowing not everything will go perfectly and to look forward to learning from students, “there is always something new and always something to learn from them.”
Fernando believes that math teachers need an understanding of how students learn. Not just the knowledge of the topic or the pedagogy, but an understanding of child development. He thinks more awareness of this need in educational culture today should lead to widespread opportunities for learning, developing, and refining individual practice based on an understanding of how students learn.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that my voice does matter, and that youth need to hear the stories and examples of Latino struggles and accomplishments. Being present at the table and in the community can be a lot of work, but the more people there are to do the work the more that will be accomplished. During this year’s strike I was joined by my mother and daughter in hearing encouragement from Dolores Huerta, and I realize the generational legacy of Latinos is not just what my daughter and I benefit from, but what we in turn will do.”