CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Kindergarten teacher Norma Fernandez was there when Joseph T. Dawson Elementary opened 25 years ago, and she'll be there for one last year when school begins at 7:50 a.m. Tuesday.
The is located at 6821 Sanders Dr., on Corpus Christi's South Side; Dawson's early drop-off begins at 7:30 a.m.
Fernandez, who has been teaching for 39 years, said the first day of school still gets her excited.
“In 'Kinder,' you really get to see the children mature, grow up, become independent, and you were part of that," said Fernandez.
She said she enjoys coming up with fun lessons and themes to keep the students engaged in class and at home.
And she's not the only one who likes to keep things fun — Dawson will deck its halls with a luau theme to welcome students.
Principal Kimberly Ellis said every year they let the staff vote on a theme.
“And so throughout our building, we have different decorations to give students a fresh learning environment for when they come back," she said.
Through all of Fernandez’s years of teaching, she said the most challenging part was the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Zooming, the computers, keeping them at home entertained — at home looking through a little box — that was the most challenging," she said.
Ellis said the pandemic shone a whole new light on how dedicated educators are.
Third-grade teacher Ramona Ward got through the last few years focusing on her students and encourages new teachers to do the same when times get tough.
“Remember this is a calling — this is not a job," she said. "That you are touching people’s lives, and you want to give it your all."
First-grade teacher Pam Almendariz also offered advice that is appropriate for both teachers and students.
“Take in the moment to know that you are doing your best, and that is what counts," she said.
Fernandez said she’s adapted and learned a lot from her students no matter the circumstances that are thrown her way.
She said her love of helping little kids inspired her to teach, and that seeing her students grow and learn the skills to move on to first grade is what has kept her going.
“You become part of them, you know?" she said. "They’re your love. You know the community the school community helps, we help everyone."