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.
At the same time, former students remember that rules, discipline and expectations were part of the mix. “You knew that he loved you unconditionally,” one former student recalls. “He also had unconditional respect for each one of us, which helped us to play by the rules.”
Coach, wife Natalie and son Richie at Coach's 80th birthday party, April 2007. Coach passed away four days later.
Coach engendered another feeling that helped students to play by the rules. They felt he was there for them. And so was every teacher he hand-picked to teach at EduCage.
Individually and together, Coach and his teachers focused on helping students uncover their passions and interests. This led to unexpected career choices, from fashion and graphic design to the mechanical and performing arts to nursing, education and law.
For EduCage students, teachers’ interest and concern for them was a given. One recalls a teacher spending hours on the phone helping him apply to college. Another, who became a senatorial legislative aide before applying to law school, traces his interest in “bigger” things to the particular influence of one of the special EduCage teachers.
Not every student’s life turned into a success story. But as one observer commented: it’s remarkable that so many did.
And to the extent that they did, it is thanks to that remarkable man, Leslie “Coach” Fernandez, who is remembered by one former student as a man who “never gave up on anyone.”
Awards and Recognitions
Mr. Fernandez received many awards in his lifetime. Some of them include:
- Distinguished Service Award
- Brotherhood Award
- Marjorie Margolis Award
- First Citizen of Westchester Award
- Who's Who in Education
Formal recognition of his work included:
- Proclamation by the County Executive of Westchester County: April 30, 1991 Les Fernandez Recognition
- Appointment by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo as Advisor to the committee for Alternative Education programs
Read Devra Hall Levy's Final Farewell to Coach here