Eliane Hernandez knows what it’s like to work hard for your dreams. When she immigrated to the United States 15 years ago, the Cuban-born math instructor went from teaching university students at home to cleaning offices at night while she learned a new language in a new land.
She kept at it, achieving fluency in English and eventually returning to teaching. Since joining the Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies team in January, she has established herself as a cheerful, encouraging and creative content coach.
Darrius Dassaw, a 15-year-old graduation candidate at MDAA, said that teachers at his old school didn’t do much to help him master challenging math concepts. “They just put the equation up on the board.”
But Coach Hernandez, he says, takes the time to work with him personally until he can wrap his mind around the numbers. “She breaks it down for you.”
“I work with them one-on-one. That’s what I love the most,” she says. “They say ‘I’m no good at math’ — but after you work with them two or three times, they say ‘Hey I understand!’ ”
Growing up in Cuba, Hernandez said she took easily to math and computer science. She enjoyed teaching at the university level there, but even for professionals, the potential for advancement was limited. “In Cuba, the economic situation is really hard and you don’t have all the opportunities you have here.”
She, her husband and their two children won an immigration lottery and relocated to New Mexico and, later, Miami. In addition to teaching math and computer skills to American-born students, she has worked extensively with New Americans.
A large number of Acceleration Academies students come from families that, like hers, came here in hopes of a better life. That requires a lot of work — particularly for students who are just learning English and, often, have to hold down jobs as well as pursuing their diplomas.
“I tried to to do the best I could. You can do the same thing,” she tells the young hopefuls. “In this country, you have all the opportunities. You just have to follow your dream.”
Eliane Hernandez, maestra de matemáticas en Miami Dade Acceleration Academies, habla sobre lo que más le gusta de su trabajo y por que le gusta ayudar a sus estudiantes.
Regardless of their backgrounds, many students find math a huge challenge. She personalizes her instruction, taking stock of each graduation candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and then crafting an approach tailored to their needs. For ones learning English, she makes sure they understand key terms such as “combine,” “odd,” “less than” and “together.”
For all learners, she also points them to the Guided Notes feature of the Edmentum online learning platform, which provides a useful roadmap to mastery.
While most of her students will not follow in her footsteps and become math instructors, all say that she has helped them overcome their fears. They emerge with skills they need not just in high school algebra and geometry, but also in managing their personal finances, pursuing higher education and succeeding in the workplace.
“I’m just not good at math,” GC Anastacia Gonazales says, but Coach Hernandez gave her a lifeline. “She took the time and effort to help me.”
Hernandez says that one advantage of working in the low-key, personalized setting of Acceleration Academies is that learners don’t have to worry about the discomfort of asking the teacher a question in front of a big classroom. Sitting down at a quiet table makes it easier to try, and to learn.
“I tell them ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,’ ” she says. “It’s the only way to learn.”