Educator Marks More than 20 Years of Making an Impact on Preschool Students. Former Student: ‘She’s still got it’
When you teach four and five year olds as long as Elvira Cortez, you come to understand – as much as anyone can – how their little minds operate.
And, few comprehend the inner workings of the preschool student better than Cortez, a Roosevelt School preschool teacher for more than 20 years, who currently serves as site supervisor and lead teacher for the school’s Child Development Center.
“I feel like this is an age where you can really help them,” Cortez said. “For example, I see children who come into the program having challenges with speech or behavior and other types of needs. And, after working with them for six months or so, you start seeing improvement.”
“I find that very rewarding,” she says.
One of her biggest motivations is making sure the students in her class are ready for kindergarten – not just in academics but getting them ready socially and emotionally as well.
Twenty-five-year old Alejandra Prado is living proof that Cortez’ efforts are making an impact.
A former preschool student of Cortez’ at Roosevelt, Prado is currently getting her master’s degree in studies of laws at USC and works at a local law firm as a legal secretary.
“(Cortez) is super nice and caring, and she’s always had this vibrant energy,” Prado said. “Even to this day, she’s still got it.”
Prado said, as an adult, she still visits Cortez from time to time as well as interacting with her on facebook and running into her at the store. Cortez also has taught Prado’s two brothers as well as other members of her extended family.
“We love her,” Prado said. “She always, no matter what, has the same energy level, and teaching a classroom of 25 or 30 five-year-old kids, I don’t understand how she’s continued to stay that way.”
Added Prado: “(Cortez) is still the teacher today that she was 20 years ago, and that’s amazing.”
Cortez said reuniting with former students like Prado is “always very rewarding. Studies prove that children who go to preschool are more likely to go to college. It’s good to see that’s really happening with my students.”
Early childhood education forms the foundation for later life learning in all domains of development, including social-emotional, language, literacy, and mathematics. Children in high quality preschools develop the skills to interact well with others, in a continuous process of critical thinking and problem solving on challenges presented by a shared environment with adult professionals and children of varying ages and abilities. Children in high quality preschools also gain foundational knowledge on a wide range of academic vocabulary, literary styles, and scientific processes crucial to later school achievement in all subject areas.
A chance encounter and informal reunion at the grocery store and a “thank you” from former students or former students’ parents always makes Cortez’s day.
“Just the day before yesterday, I ran into one of my first student’s mom … I hadn’t seen her in 20 years. We hugged each other and started talking,” Cortez said. “At the end, she said, (my son) turned out to be a really good man. He’s now 26 … you were very good to him and he learned so much.”
After two decades teaching preschool, Cortez said she’s learned a lot. Specifically, she’s learned “to respect the differences and
diversity” of children from different backgrounds. I’ve learned to understand that parents from different backgrounds do things differently, and that’s OK.”
In 20 years, she’s also seen cultural shifts in the way children learn, including the ever-increasing role of technology at home and in the classroom.
“One major difference I’ve seen since I started 20 years ago … some children are using iPhones and iPads at home, and when these students come into the classroom, it’s hard for them to play,” Cortez said. “When they’re playing together at school, they’re learning, and that’s an important part of it.”
Added Cortez: “This technology is good, but only for about 20 minutes a day.”
Her path to becoming a preschool educator started with substitute teaching.
“I started at a school (outside of the Redwood City School District) … in some very poor neighborhoods,” Cortez said. “I’m talking about students with single-mom households and six other siblings living in small studios. Kids who had all kinds of difficult situations.”
Seeing this kind of poverty gave her the inspiration to be a guiding light for students in tough circumstances.
“Looking at the community and these children, I was very touched by it. I just felt in my heart, really deep, this is what I want to do,” she said.
She ended up taking a job with Redwood City School District more than 20 years ago and couldn’t have been happier with the decision and subsequent outcome.
“Redwood City School District’s preschool programs are strong in getting the kids socially and emotionally ready … they’re constantly sending us to training, and our curriculum is very strong. Working here gives me the sense of ‘I’m a teacher and educator’ – not just a babysitter, which is how preschool teachers used to be seen.”
Teaching has been a fruitful journey for Cortez, and every day is educational – even 20 years later.
“I feel I have so much experience now, but I’m still learning.”