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24 Oct, 2011
Many of the kids were described as hard-to-reach, alienated and hostile. Even Fernandez’s reflection about his first months working at Cage supported the description. His rueful remark: he wasn’t an animal tamer, after all.
Not an animal tamer, but definitely a fighter. Fernandez had been a Golden Gloves boxer. The first Cage program he launched, which endured for decades, was in boxing. It was a smart choice, channeling the energies of many hostile youths.
From that small beginning, and feeling his way all the way for the next three decades, Leslie Fernandez created EduCage, the first true alternative high school in New York’s Westchester County. It gave at-risk teenagers a meaningful chance to succeed in life. Significantly, the school that “Coach” Fernandez created also enjoyed one of the highest graduation rates in New York’s Westchester County.
What made the EduCage difference?
Leslie Fernandez always remembered his parents’ unconditional love and his former coach’s confidence in his abilities. Both made a positive difference in his life. He also remembered the cross of that “loser” feeling in high school when not a single teacher looked deeper. Those experiences informed his work in creating EduCage.
But there is more. There was Leslie “Coach” Fernandez himself.
As described by everyone who knew him, Leslie Fernandez, a man’s man, was also a mixture of compassion, empathy and strength. “Coach led me down a road of love and discipline,” says musician and music producer Steve Luongo. “Today when I work with other musicians, I try always to apply the lessons I learned from Coach to make them, and me, better.”
Author Devra Hall Levy used to walk across town from her high school, one of those typical one-size-fits-all curricula schools, to be at EduCage instead. “Coach found teachers like him: they cared about us,” she says. In addition, the small classes ensured that each student received individual attention. “All the EduCage teachers knew you, really knew you,” Levy recalls. “No one glossed over your problems, and some of us had big problems.”
Indeed, the one feeling mentioned again and again by former students, especially the self-described troubled ones, is that they felt seen and understood by Coach. For many, it was their first experience of real caring from an adult.
A Comprehensive Guide to Backup and Disaster Recovery.
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