xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Coming to Harford by way of Alaska, special educator at Magnolia Elementary excited for new year

Travis Fernandez is entering his first year at Harford County Public Schools, teaching special education to fourth graders at Magnolia Elementary School. While it’s not his first year teaching special education, it is the first time he will have a team of fellow special educators around him for support.

Fernandez, 25, spent his first few years in the field teaching in a remote Alaskan village of about 600 people.

Advertisement

“I was living in a village of natives on the coast of the Bering Sea in southwest Alaska,” the New Jersey native said. “Once you were there, you were there. They do as much as they can to prepare you for what it is, but you really don’t know until you get there and step off the plane. That’s when you realize how remote the area is and how far away you are from everything else.”

Having just moved to Harford County from Alaska where he was a teacher, Harford County first year Special Education teacher Travis Fernandez is ready for the new school year at Magnolia Elementary School September 1, 0221.
Having just moved to Harford County from Alaska where he was a teacher, Harford County first year Special Education teacher Travis Fernandez is ready for the new school year at Magnolia Elementary School September 1, 0221. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

He was the lone special educator at the K-12 school, which had a student population of about 200, he said. And Fernandez was responsible for about 27 special needs students there across all 13 grade levels.

Advertisement
Advertisement

When he interviewed for the opening with Magnolia Elementary Principal Audrey Vohs, Fernandez said he was excited.

“Something I have to get used to this year — it’s a good thing — is the amount of support I’m going to have,” he said during an interview in his classroom, about a week before school was set to begin Wednesday. “In my prior placement, I was doing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech/language pathology, along with just teaching.

“I learned a lot doing that. But because of that I wasn’t able to meet the students’ needs as much as I wanted. Coming here, I was pleasantly surprised by all the supports there are.”

Fernandez is also looking forward to be interacting with his students in-person, as Harford County Public Schools are welcoming back students for in-person instruction five days a week for the first time since March of 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Advertisement

After a few months student teaching in Alaska in fall 2018, Fernandez returned there in January 2019 after he was offered a full-time position. His college — Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania — had a partnership with the school system in Alaska to place teachers there, paying for them to relocate as well as room and board, he said.

When COVID-19 struck there, because the area was so remote, they weren’t able to have virtual instruction the same way students in Maryland were.

“Because of where we at, most families didn’t have an internet connection, or at least one that was stable enough to do virtual learning, so at first we started with paper packets, sending them out, getting them back,” Fernandez said. "

“It wasn’t until a few months went by we started working on an intra-net system, a partnership between the school system and the phone company up there. They provided us with devices ... that kind of worked. It wasn’t very quick and not everyone was in the right location to point their antenna to the right spot.

“At the most we were able to speak with students online or do a few Zoom sessions, but instruction over the intranet system wasn’t feasible because of the poor connections,” he said. “It was very different from here.”

Now that he’s going to be back in a classroom with students, he’s looking forward to collaborating with and learning from other teachers and helping his students grow.

Fernandez said several of his cousins have special needs, which made him gravitate toward special education.

“I wanted to be supportive in any way possible for students with special needs, since it hits so close to home,” he said.

He enjoys celebrating his students successes and victories, and said he likes to be challenged to figure out the best way to make learning enjoyable for students.

“In special education, you have a lot of freedom in determining how you achieve and certain goal or objective with students, and a lot of different tools to use in order to get to that point,” Fernandez said. “It’s fun to work with students, figure out what works best for them and have fun — I want to make it as fun as possible for students.”

Special education can be challenging, and already he’s heard from fellow teachers about what he can expect from some students, but he’s keeping an open mind.

“Every kid is different, you never know what you’re going to get,” Fernandez said. “Especially, for me, going into this year, I’m not too sure of these students yet. Everyone tells me different things, and I take their word for it. But a rule of thumb is always experience it for yourself before you make big assumptions.

While he’s grateful for his experiences teaching in Alaska and the many different things he was asked to do, he said it’ll be nice to shift his focus onto a smaller group of kids in a single grade level.

“I still have a lot to learn and I’m hoping I can here, and I feel like I will. I’m looking forward to the school year and becoming a better version of myself,” Fernandez said. “I think this is a place where I can grow as an educator.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement