The first stop at the Arbuckle Elementary School is the office where a person most assuredly had been greeted by Cundi Fernandez, the multilingual office assistant. Yet November begins a new era, and after 33 years, Fernandez is retiring.
Fernandez said she felt strange attending the retirement party as her coworkers shared fond memories. She said she was a bit bashful over the fuss, “I just do what I do. I don’t like to make a splash.”
For Fernandez, the best part of her job was to see children look in the window to make sure she was there. It made her feel good to know that in a chaotic world, she could be a mainstay. Although she will miss all the students and staff, she will especially miss Veronica Dorantes, whom Fernandez has worked with for 15 years. Fernandez said it was like a marriage where they were able to communicate with a single look.
In Barcelona, Spain, Fernandez had started out in college with the intent of being a nurse. After coming to Colusa with her husband, Fernandez was employed as a nurse at Valley West. While learning to speak English, she worked the night shift. Fernandez stated that she figured that she would not have to converse if the patients were sleeping.
Her plans changed with the arrival of a new baby when childcare was difficult to find.
She later learned about an opening at Grand Island Elementary in her hometown of Grimes, assisting an overwhelmed kindergarten teacher that had 20 children, half of which could not speak English. Fernandez was able to fill the position with a compassion of someone who understood what it was like to not be able to speak the language.
The job eventually lead to a full-time position with Arbuckle Elementary in the same school district.
“You can tell how appreciative the parents are that somebody can explain things to them,” said Fernandez, “It makes a big difference in participation for the parents. I’m grateful I was able to help out with communication.”
Fernandez is looking forward to spending her newfound free time to help care for her grandchildren, traveling, hiking, and spending time in her garden.
For the month of October, individual classes at Arbuckle Elementary School have been making a special stop in the main office. Also celebrating her birthday, Fernandez said that she got double the blessings when students and teachers came to visit. Everyone in the school got a chance to give Fernandez hugs and present a variety of thoughtful tokens of appreciation.
Among the paper flowers and painted bouquets, another thoughtful homage is a garden planted by the parents club and the migrant education group. The garden is a manifestation of Fernandez’s philosophy that children blossom the same way that flowers will bloom from a seed if nurtured.
Fernandez expressed concern that many of the smaller children do not understand retirement and that it would have to be a lesson they’ll come to terms with. However, the plaque with her name will ensure that Fernandez, whose last day was Thursday, will continue to be the first welcome that people receive when they come to Arbuckle Elementary School. ■