Fernando Mandujano (LA, ‘20) - Coming Home to Teach
Growing up only a few miles from his placement school, TFA LA alum Fernando Mandujano used his lived experiences to connect with students
June 27, 2022
Fernando Mandujano, a Teach For America Los Angeles alum, spent much of his time in the corps thinking about the future. Specifically, his students’ future and how he can best position them to lead fulfilling and successful lives. As a math and science special education teacher, he integrated real-world applications into his lessons to make them more relatable to his students' lives. Fernando used discounted video games as a way to teach percentages as he encouraged his scholars to use math as a way to make sure they were getting the best deal. He even created a computer class that integrated public speaking into the curriculum because he knew its “usefulness” and the power of “being able to stand in front of people and address a whole group.”
Fernando’s ability to connect to his students was about more than just his teaching methods. As a local Angeleno, teaching at Cesar Chavez Middle School was something close to a homecoming. “I actually grew up in Compton, so not too far from here,” he shares. His similar experience as a child who grew up in South Los Angeles enabled his students to see themselves in Fernando. “When I spoke to their parents, I understand because I see my own parents. I often let my students know, ‘Although I understand your situation, it doesn’t mean my expectations are low.’ I have very high expectations because I was just in your seat,” he shares.
As a child, Fernando attended his neighborhood schools where “the vast majority of students were Black and Brown,” before his father sent him to a well-regarded high school in Downey with a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population. It didn’t take long for Fernando to notice the gaping disparity between the resources available at his school and the local high school his neighborhood friends still attended. “Unfortunately, as I started researching why things are set up the way they are, I learned it has to do a lot with being rooted in deep racist history,” he says. It was then that he decided to dedicate his career to fighting for more educational opportunities for students growing up in neighborhoods like his. Six years later, he fulfilled that promise by teaching at a middle school in Lynwood. “Being able to come back here and serve in this community…to serve students that look like me, and come from communities like ours..it means a lot. It's a huge privilege,” he shares.
Fernando knows tackling educational inequity requires lasting systemic change from policy-makers and institutions. But he also knows the influence a good teacher can have. His “ultimate goal” as a teacher was to help his students “grow to be independent, to be able to lead fruitful lives despite any exceptionalities that they might live with.” He also exposed his students to the possibility of attending college and worked with his Vice Principal to schedule local tours for students. “TFA changed my perspective and helped me get a better understanding of how K12 education really impacts or prepares you to get to college,” says Fernando. “I myself am a first-generation college student. My plan from here is to continue to provide access for students in higher education spaces.”
“TFA changed my perspective and helped me get a better understanding of how K12 education really impacts or prepares you to get to college”
As a teacher, Fernando focused on educating and opening doors for his students as an educator and mentor. He attributes his success to the collective energy and efforts of his father and other adults who believed in him along his educational journey. It’s a role he took seriously as a mentor, instilling confidence in his students and their abilities to achieve their dreams. “Despite any obstacles or hurdles you might encounter, if you're persistent and…with the support of others, you're going to get to where you want to be to meet your goals.” states Fernando, “I think that's really important to remember is that we're never alone. That's the big thing for me, community. Especially working here, we have a strong community here.”