Child development administrator discovered new career path through fatherhood

While necessity may be the “Mother of Invention,” Gabriel Hernandez, through necessity, not only discovered the joy of becoming a father, but also a career path in the demanding profession of child development.

A graduate of The Woodlands High School, Hernandez became the father of twin daughters–Felicity, named after his great-grandmother, and Audrey, after Audrey Hepburn–in 1999.

“I was attending Montgomery College at the time, majoring in biology and trying to determine whether I wanted to become a toxicologist or a medical doctor,” recalled Hernandez, 27. “After my daughters were born, I decided to take a semester off so I could be a stay-at-home dad, and during those nine months–which I believe were some of the best months of my life–I experienced, first hand, all of my children’s developmental milestones … and it put me in awe of the cognitive abilities they had, even as infants.”

That experience caused Hernandez to rethink his life goals and, at that point, he began considering entering the child development field and eventually opening his own child development center in The Woodlands.

Returning to school and continuing his education at The University of Houston, Hernandez continued to think about his goals and the direction life was beckoning for him to go…to the puzzlement of his family.

“Initially, they were a bit disappointed because they had high hopes for me to become a doctor and all of the notoriety that comes along with the title,” he recalled, “but after I explained to them what was driving me toward this field and the personal gratification that comes with this work, it put most of their worries to rest.”

After several years of juggling his multiple roles of husband to Emily, father to twin daughters -- now seven, bread-winner and student, Hernandez has come to a milestone of his own, having recently been named assistant director of the North Harris College Child Development Center, a role he views far beyond the job description.

“Children learn so much during these early years that molds them into the citizens they will become in the future,” he said. “This position provides an opportunity to give a positive experience to as many children as I can, where they are not only educated, but also given the appropriate social interactions to aid in developing their character.”

How important are professional caregivers in the lives of children today?

“Considering how crucial the first years of a person’s life are, having the best caregivers impacting children helps ensure that they have the best start possible,” Hernandez said. “These are, after all, our future leaders and our hope for a better tomorrow.”

As assistant director, his job, which includes scheduling, parent and teacher conferences, training and mounds of paperwork, places him in an environment usually populated by a majority of females. Hernandez is undaunted.

“I think it is beneficial for children to have a variety of influences,” he said, “so anytime males can join a female-dominated school, it is wonderful for the children’s development. With a male teacher or administrator, they see that men are capable of providing nurturing as well as the same type of other interactions taking place in a learning environment. At home, most children have both influences, so why should it be any different at school?”

Citing his mother as one of his dominant influences, role models and mentors, the assistant director said she taught him the importance of independence. “When I was a teenager, she always pushed me to read books on being successful and remaining positive despite unforeseen hardships,” he recalled. “She really helped shape me into the person I am today.”

Although somewhat biased, Hernandez is pleased to become part of the North Harris College Child Development Program. “We hire the best teachers,” he pointed out, “but we also offer ongoing training to help with the development of each staff member’s abilities. We have one-way mirrors in five of our classrooms that allow for observation through our hallway without the individuals inside the classroom knowing we are watching. This is a very unique amenity for a childcare facility because it permits the examination of staff interactions as well as the individual child’s development.”

As he becomes better oriented to the day-to-day activities of the center, the new assistant director said, because he considers himself fortunate enough to be living his dream, he doesn’t mind the long hours, but he’s still learning how to get everything done before the day ends. “That’s definitely the most difficult part of my job,” he admits. “There are sometimes hard decisions to make, but if you just keep what’s best for each child in your focus, these decisions become easier…and even as I continue to adjust to the schedule, I look forward to going to the center each day because I know my actions will help maintain a positive and nurturing learning environment for our children. That keeps me going. Big smiles and hugs from the children when I walk into the classroom are, definitely, perks of the job, too.”  To parents making decisions about which center and/or caregiver may be best for their children, Hernandez offers these suggestions: 

Too many times, parents will choose a school, based upon proximity to their home or job instead of the quality education that school provides,” he said. “My first advice to parents seeking care for their children outside the home is to only visit centers that are accredited by The National Association for the Education of Young Children.

After learning more about Montessori education, I can now say, if parents welcome the Montessori philosophy, they should also visit centers that have attained American Montessori Society accreditation.

Once parents have a list of schools, they should visit each one and meet both the administration team and the teachers who will be in the classroom.

After narrowing down the list to just a few schools, parents should then bring their child along to visit the classroom for a few hours. These steps should give parents the necessary tools to make an informed decision.
After seven years of parenting Felicity and Audrey, plus earning his credentials in child development and experience as a child development professional, Hernandez said rearing children continues to be a challenge. “I think what comes natural to most parents–in the face of misbehavior–is punishment instead of discipline. Many parents feel that punishment will resolve whatever problem they are encountering with their child,” he continued. “This may mean spanking, time-out or yelling.

“In any case, the thought behind this is that if the child feels bad about the punishment, they will be less likely to repeat the behavior that preceded it. When we choose, instead, to discipline our children, it is not only more appropriate, but it works, intrinsically, to help the child grasp why they should not repeat the misbehavior. Parents should calmly but firmly tell the child what it is they do not want the child doing and then why that action makes the parent feel the way they do.

“If their child is jumping on the couch, they should instruct their child to first sit down, and then explain that it makes them nervous that their child will fall and bump his head when he jumps on the couch. The child now knows that jumping on the couch is not allowed, and he also knows why it is not permitted. Cognitively, this helps the child think through his actions more clearly next time instead of just remembering the bad feelings associated with the incident,” Hernandez added.
 
When asked about his own, personal defining moment as a professional in the field of child development, the assistant director is candid:  “When you are in a career where you know that you are making an important impact in the lives of other people, it is really hard to think of one standout defining moment. There have been several events in which I take great pride for being in this profession and doing what I do. Whenever I make such an impact in the life of one of my students that, when they see me, they call out my name and run up to hug me, that’s one of those events. Whenever I see a staff member transform from a mediocre caregiver to an outstanding classroom facilitator, that’s also one of those events.

“On a different note, when a child is being physically abused by his parents and I help that child receive the help he needs through the proper authorities, this also remains in my heart as one of those events,” he said.
 
Is there a demand for more, good people in the child development profession?

“Absolutely!” is Hernandez’s enthusiastic reply. “There is a high demand for quality educators in this profession. Too many centers hire people who are not suited for positive guidance in their interactions with children, simply because they do not receive enough qualified applicants. There are also many other career paths that people can take with an education in child development. Many social programs, like Early Childhood Intervention and CPS, need qualified staff to improve the effectiveness of their programs. Professors are needed to educate the future educators of our children. There are so many careers out there for someone with an education in child development. It just depends on their passion for the profession and where their hearts lead them.”
 
North Harris College is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive., one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: northharris.lonestar.edu.

NHMCCD, among the five largest and fastest growing community colleges in Texas, comprises, North Harris College, Kingwood College, Tomball College, Montgomery College, Cy-Fair College, six satellite centers, and The University Center.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 02/09/2007
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