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Extraordinary Educator: Sandra Cordova

Sandra Cordova, The Kearns Academy, awarded High Point Extraordinary Educator by the High Point School Schools Partnership at High Point Country Club, High Point, N.C., Friday, August 20, 2021. (Lynn Hey photo)

2021 Extraordinary Educators: Sandra Cordova

Great communities have great schools. High Point Schools Partnership creates impactful connections between our schools and the wider community to ensure students and their families are supported and can reach their full potential in High Point schools.

Part of High Point Schools Partnerships’ mission is to improve the image of our schools through storytelling. Who better to tell the stories of High Point’s schools than the people experiencing it first-hand? In this series of eight articles, we will highlight our 2021 High Point Extraordinary Educators as we dive deeper into what keeps them motivated in the face of constant challenges.

Sandra Cordova

For the last 14 years, through “many different name changes and many different leadership changes,” Sandra Cordova has called The Kearns Academy her home. The “sense of family and camaraderie of embracing and adapting to change with grace has always been consistent,” Cordova says of her time at Kearns.

Kearns Academy principal Bryan Johnson describes Sandra Cordova as someone who “embraced virtual learning and initiated her own learning to provide her students a meaningful and useful virtual setting.” She “worked with other staff members to organize and visit unengaged students” and “serves as a translator and contact for a lot of our parents.” Ms. Cordova also “ensures students have lunches at school and that lunches do not go to waste” in addition to doing whatever it takes to help students be successful.

However, Ms. Cordova also wishes her students would remember that she “is also a human being” who will have “good days and bad days.” By remembering that, they would likely avoid most conflicts by “sharing that commonality and affording each other respect and patience.”

Q: What inspired you to become an educator?

A: I was blessed to have had an opportunity to stay home with my children when they were young.  I shared their joy and enthusiasm for learning so much that when they reached the age to attend school, I decided that I would like to continue being a mentor to children.  The most logical way to do that was to go into education.

Q: What’s your teaching/leadership style?

A: I started my career in education as a preschool teacher. However, I follow most of the same tenets that I used in my pre-school classes: speak with kindness, patience, and respect; model good manners and behavior; redirect rather than a reprimand and offer consequence choices, and teach and model personal responsibility and accountability.

Q: Do you have a classroom motto or philosophy you abide by? Why?

A: I have candy and gum that I sometimes give out for various reasons (mostly if a student has won a game). However, often I will have students ask if they can just have a piece of gum or candy. At the risk of being perceived as stingy, I let them know that they instead can EARN a piece of gum or candy. So, I may ask them to empty the trash can or collect and put away any books that have been left out or erase the whiteboard. My reason for doing this is to reinforce the value of work ethic and hopefully reduce the sense of entitlement that so many children seem to have adopted. 

Q: What’s your favorite part about every day?

A: The best part of every day is that moment when you can see the light bulb turn on for a student through the expression on their face.

Q: What’s your most memorable moment as an educator?

A: A few years ago, I had a student who seemed happy in school and always had a smile on her face. However, she started to struggle academically in all her classes and she reached the point of being at risk of not graduating. While touring the Wake Forest Museum of Anthropology, I noticed that she lingered around one of the ofrenda exhibits. An ofrenda is a display to commemorate the life of someone who has passed away, and this particular ofrenda looked to be one of a grandmother. Underneath the main photo of the grandmother were other pictures of people who presumably were her children and her grandchildren. I asked my student what she thought of the display when she suddenly teared up and told me the ofrenda made her sad. I asked her why it made her sad. She disclosed that her mom died of cervical cancer when she was very young, and recently, she herself had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She said that she may never have a family tree like the one displayed in the exhibit and that she was scared. I gave her a hug and we found a corner to sit down and talk about things a bit more. 

After returning to school, I informed our counselor about her situation so that appropriate steps could be taken to reach out to her family. Our staff rallied around her by taking extra care to check on her well-being, offering any extra tutoring that she may have needed, and collecting money to help pay for some of her treatments. Eventually, her body responded to treatment and her mood and outlook improved. I am happy to say she graduated on time and went on to pursue a career as a firefighter. 

A couple of years later, I ran into her at the Dollar Tree looking at the decorations for Day of the Dead. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked her how she had been. She shared that she was doing well and that she was at the store to pick up supplies so she could create an ofrenda to honor her mom. She told me that the field trip we took all those years ago sparked something in her and now that her health crisis had passed, she could remember her mom with joy rather than sadness.

When we parted ways, a sense of pride and satisfaction welled up within me. I had just experienced one of those legendary moments that a teacher hears about but never thinks could happen to them. It was a moment that affirmed your profession, a moment that affirmed you made a difference in someone’s life. Evidence of student impact is more than statistics of academic growth; it is the result of a seed planted and later blossoming into a flower one at a time.

Thank you so much to Sandra Corvoda for your dedication to High Point’s students. Congratulations on being selected as your school’s 2021 Extraordinary Educator!

To find out more about High Point Schools Partnership and our work, please visit our Facebook page and check out our page on Guilford Education Alliance’s website.

Article written by High Point Schools Partnership Staff