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Inside CPS

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G.R. Clark Elementary School Educator Shares Her Goals for Her Pre-K Student

08 November 2023

Ms. Herrera wants her son Ariel to experience a tight-knit school with a deep sense of community. 

Ms. Herrera and Ariel

Ariel is one of the new pre-k students whose academic journeys are just beginning at George Rogers Clark Elementary School, but he’s been a part of the Clark community even before this school year. His mom, Ms. Daniela Herrera, is a special education teacher at Clark and has worked there since before he was even born. 

She worked while pregnant with him, and, when he turned three months old, she brought him to the school for the first time so everyone could meet him. Her colleagues have watched him grow up, which is why she refers to them as his “aunts and uncles” rather than just her colleagues. 

“There are times that I do go to Ms. Rodriguez, his pre-k teacher, as a parent, but I try to meet with her either before school or after school so she knows that I’m not coming to her as Ms. Herrera, but rather as Ariel’s mom,” she said. “As a teacher, I know how it can be working with students, which has allowed us to maintain open communication.” 

Ms. Herrera wanted her son to attend Clark not only because it is where she works, but she feels that it embodies many of the same qualities that were highlights of her own experience in CPS. She explains that she attended a tight-knit elementary school and high school, and she felt that same sense of community when she first started working at Clark about seven years ago.

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And, if Ariel decides that he wants to become a teacher, he will be keeping a tradition going. Ms. Herrera’s father was a first-grade teacher in CPS for more than 20 years. 

“What I remember about CPS was that my parents knew all of the teachers, and the teachers knew my parents,” she said. “They knew me and my parents by name, and it was that familiarity that I knew I wanted for Ariel.” 

Pre-k is an extremely important year for students because it acts as the foundation that all future academic success is built upon. Ms. Herrera knows this, which is why she is focused on one key goal for him. She knows it’s ambitious, but she wants him to enter kindergarten knowing how to read. 

To reinforce what he is learning in the classroom, she practices letter sounds and sight words with him at home. She has created a resource called his “learning binder” that has grown as he’s progressed. It started with dotted lines so he could practice using a pencil. Then she added ways for him to learn his shapes and numbers. And now it contains opportunities to practice letter sounds. 

Ariel has been introduced to his new favorite book series in his pre-k class: Pete the Cat. His favorite book in the series is called Rocking in My School Shoes, especially the narrated version that turns the story into a song. His other interests include coloring inside the classroom and playing with monster trucks at home. Ms. Herrera is keeping a close eye on these interests to see if anything connects to a potential future career. 

“On top of learning how to read, I also want him to figure out what he enjoys doing,” she said. “Right now, he wants to be a gym teacher one day and a doctor the next, so I want him to determine how he likes to spend his time so I can help him get there.” 

Though she is focused on her goals for her son, Ms. Herrera also has some goals for herself that she is currently working on. Her time at Clark has been defined by growth. She started as a first-grade teacher, then became the school’s English learner program teacher, and is now a special education teacher. 

Thanks to the support of her principal, Dr. Natasha Buckner-Pena, she’s earned two master’s degrees as she continues striving toward her overarching goal of becoming a school leader herself. 

“Dr. Buckner always tells me to remember where I am now compared to where I was when I started,” she said. “At first, I never thought I was going to make it as a teacher, and now I’m looking to take on an administrative position. Everybody here has supported me, and I know they are going to support Ariel in the same way.”

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