Jennifer Hernandez can be sneaky when it comes to teaching her preschool students numbers and colors.
Hernandez, affectionately well known as Miss Jenn, is the second Inspirational Educator honored this month by the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club. She spoke at the club’s Thursday meeting.
Hernandez said she’ll wait until playtime to ask a student how many bricks they have on their tower, which will require them to count them, or the color of the top piece.
Hernandez has been teaching in Bowling Green for 29 years. She was hired to teach preschool immediately after graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1994.
The program at the Wood County Educational Service Center had grown too large so they got a really cheap college graduate to teach the class, which was moved to the former Central Administration Building on South Grove Street, she said.
Hernandez recalled the dirt floors in the basement, the marble stairs, and the bathroom that wasn’t locked as often as it should have been.
“It was a big room, though,” she said.
She was there for 10 years.
In 2005, Bowling Green City Schools decided to take over the preschool program from the ESC. She led classes at the Jordan Center on the BGSU campus until 2012. She move to Crim Elementary into its new preschool space and was there until 2017.
She was moved to the modular classrooms at Conneaut Elementary in 2018. The preschool has earned the Ohio Department of Education’s Step Up to Quality five–star quality rating.
She is now teaching children of former students.
“It’s nice to see my students have grown up and started families and are members of this community,” she said.
Her students now call her mom, grandma and mimi.
“I do answer,” she said.
Hernandez recounted a nightmare in which she woke up and went to her classroom only to find all of her boxes unpacked. But then the kids came in, she was trying to do a story with the boxes still in the room and she was worried her students would climb on them.
“People are going to walk in and say what is wrong with her, she didn’t unpack her boxes,” Hernandez said about the dream.
Then a cat crossed her path. After catching it, in her dream she was walking down the hallway, carrying the cat, when she passed Principal Alyssa Karaffa.
Karaffa took the cat and just kept walking, Hernandez said about her dream.
“So, thank you, thank you for always carrying my cat,” Hernandez said to Karaffa, who attended the meeting. “Because I knew if I handed her that cat, she would take it.”
Karaffa when asked what else she’ll carry for her teachers, said she tries to take as much off their plate as she can.
The honor given Hernandez was very well deserved, Karaffa said.
“She definitely meets all of her students’ needs. It’s incredible how much she goes above and beyond to make their day special,” she said.
Hernandez has a morning and afternoon class with 16 students each. Her classes have included students who are blind, deaf, wheelchair bound and with speech and fine motor delays.
“Children come in chronologically 3-5 (years old), but developmentally maybe 6 months to 6 years,” she said.
She is taking classes in American Sign Language and has added lessons on ASL to the curriculum this year for all students.
“I’ve had four students with cochlear implants and a staff member who is deaf, and I want to be able to communicate with them and make sure they’re part of the class environment,” she said.
She said a pet peeve is when people say preschool is all play.
“I will put you in there and lock the door,” she said.
We play every day, she said, and it’s her job to make it playtime with a purpose without them knowing she’s doing it.
“And they usually don’t,” she said.
Hernandez has kids sign in, they do circle time and read aloud with legs like a pretzel and hands in their lap.
Then it’s time for the playground before coming back into the classroom for snacks and learning manners and how to use utensils.
“You don’t just yell your order into a box, and it gets tossed out a window, you have to say please and thank you,” she said.
Her room has different areas for activities and at the end of the day students get to choose what they do.
“Because when you get to choose what you’re doing and you’re involved, it means more to you,” she said.
That is when she sneaks in her questions to get kids counting or identifying colors.
“That’s how you play with purpose and intention and get them to do things they don’t know they’re doing,” she said.
“They’re honest and they want to learn. When they figure something out, they are so excited,” she said.
“I enjoy watching their eyes light up when they learn something new,” she said about why she became a teacher.