By NICOLE GREGORY     8/24/2023

The school year begins on Aug. 28 at St. Joseph Catholic School in Placentia where two teachers share a special bond—not only do they love teaching the very youngest students, but they are also mother and daughter.

Raina Pires teaches transitional kindergarten—children who’ve graduated from preschool but are not yet ready for kindergarten. Her mother, Nancy Hernandez, is a longtime kindergarten teacher—she was pregnant with Raina when she first began her teaching career 26 years ago. Today their classrooms are located across the hall from each other, a situation which they both enjoy.

“My mom is the greatest teacher there is,” said Pires, who is working toward her degree at Cal State Fullerton. Pires attended St. Joseph when she was a preschooler, then continued her elementary education in Ontario where her family lived. But while growing up she accompanied her mother to work whenever possible and observed her teach little children.

“She always knows how to make lessons engaging,” said Pires. “In class she is super caring and patient—she just loves kids. I think it’s her nature. She was born to be a teacher—she’s living out God’s calling.”

Her mother, Nancy Hernandez, who got her degree in child development at Cal State Fullerton, explained the deep connection she has with her young students.

“I absolutely love building relationships with them, sharing my faith with them, building an academic foundation, a spiritual foundation and a social-emotional foundation for them,” she said.

“It’s important to me that the children feel special and loved just as God created them.”

Before coming to St. Joseph, Hernandez worked at Beatitudes of Our Lord Catholic School in La Mirada where she directed the preschool.

“I have been teaching over 30 years total and I still love coming to work,” she said. “I look forward to class every year.”

St. Joseph Catholic School opened in 1959 and provides a faith-filled education to children from preschool to eighth grade.

Having worked at the school for so many years, Hernandez has taught generations of families. “I just really feel a part of that community,” she said. “The families and community are very down to earth. It’s this close-knit community that I really love.”

The principal of St. Joseph, Amanda Hawley, M.Ed., appreciates having Hernandez and her daughter among the school’s faculty.

“They are both beautiful God-loving people who have a gift for working with children,” said Hawley. “At the same time, they are very different from each other and bring different strengths to the classroom and their collaboration together.

Teaching in two consecutive grades, they work closely with their curriculum to align and ensure that our TK [transitional kindergarten] students are really ready for the next grade.”

Pires and Hernandez complement each other as teachers.

“Raina is a young and energetic teacher who brings fresh ideas and enthusiasm for working with young children,” said Hawley. “Nancy also has a passion for working with the younger students but brings a wealth of knowledge based on her many years as a teacher. She not only provides leadership and insight to our staff but brings a knowledge of school history and tradition based on her years as both a SJS alumna and longtime teacher.”

As an experienced Catholic school teacher, Hernandez knows how to instill faith in her students in a way that is meaningful for their age and development, even if they have not been raised Catholic.

“Most come with a knowledge that there is a God,” she said. “I really talk about it throughout the entire day and try to make it come alive for them.”

In addition to acting out Bible scenes associated with holidays, and teaching crafts such as making Advent wreaths, Hernandez shows her students how to invite God into everyday dilemmas and conflicts.

“If a child has an issue with another student, I’ll say something like, ‘Let’s pray about that, let’s ask God to help us with sharing on the play aground.’ I tell them we can talk to God at any time, not just before we eat or before bed. He’s our friend.’”

This brand of teaching is at the heart of St. Joseph Catholic School’s mission.

“Having three St. Joseph alumni children myself I am extremely passionate about Catholic education and especially our little school,” said Hawley. “I love that in all we do, it is done in the name of our Lord. My biggest hope for our students and teachers is for them to really understand who our Lord made them to be, and to use their God-given gifts to bless not only our school, but the community and world.”