Garden corner commemorates beloved middle-school teacher

Kathy Russell-Fernandez with her children Grace and Calvin Fernandez. (Photo courtesy of Calvin Fernandez)

Update: Click here to see the slideshow of the work party for “Kathy’s Corner”

Students visiting the garden in the next couple of weeks may notice a new addition near the pear tree: a section of flower beds called Kathy’s Corner.

This addition commemorates former middle-school teacher Kathy Russell-Fernandez, who died on Aug. 2 from cancer at the age of 57.

Russell-Fernandez, who taught both math and Earth science, played an integral part in the garden.

“She was always involved in the planting and steering of the garden as it evolved into its present form,” former garden facilitator Michael Covey said.

“(Kathy’s Corner is) something that (those of us) who are involved in the garden felt was appropriate. A garden connection. A corner where her presence can be felt.”

In fact, Russell-Fernandez taught the garden elective with middle-school science teacher Aleitha Burns.

Sandy Lyon, head of middle school, said, “she was really passionate about keeping (the garden) going. That passion of hers was huge.”

Elena Bennett, lower-school music teacher and long-time friend of Russell-Fernandez’s, remembers how important healthy living was to her.

“She cared about healthy eating and growing things,” Bennett said. “I admired how connected to the Earth she was.”

Russell-Fernandez’s spirit of giving wasn’t limited to the garden, though.

“She was amazing on campus in terms of the recycling programs,” said Laura Monahan, middle-school math teacher. “(She was a) strong person for the environment and making sure that we were doing things right.”

Along with her dedication to the environment and health, Russell-Fernandez was also a committed mother. She had two children, Calvin Fernandez, ’09, who graduated from Stanford University in June, and Grace Fernandez, who now attends Camellia Waldorf School.

“She was a fabulous mom,” Bennett said. “She wanted such great things for her kids.”

Bennett recalls Russell-Fernandez’s sense of adventure. “They just drove to Alaska in their camper,” Bennett said. “That kind of stuff I was just amazed by.

“She had such a positive outlook on everything. She inspired me.”

Russell-Fernandez took last year off from teaching to volunteer at her daughter’s school and to help with the Sacramento Children’s Chorus.

As a teacher, Russell-Fernandez, who is survived by her husband Abel Fernandez, was just as positive and caring.

“She would always have ideas about how to make something work better or go better,” Lyon said.

“She held you to a high standard, whether it was in academics or in your personal life,” said Madeleine Wright, ’13, who had Russell-Fernandez as an adviser and geometry teacher in eighth grade. “I knew that she believed in me. In math and in my life, that was really helpful.”

Junior Micaela Bennett-Smith was a student in Russell-Fernandez’s Algebra I and earth science classes during eighth grade.

“She always went out of her way to help other people,” Bennett-Smith said. “She was always interested in what was happening with me.”

Bennett feels similarly. “She was creative and sensitive to the kids. She really cared that they liked (the subject).

“She was so gung-ho about getting (the students) outside of the classroom and showing them the world. She understood so deeply how science was the real world, not just something you read in a book. That’s the best kind of teacher: someone who’s living the subject.”

According to Bennett, Russell-Fernandez couldn’t be bested as a friend. “She was a hugely faithful and loyal friend, that’s for sure,” Bennett said. “If you needed help of any kind—a ride, a place to sleep, a favor, a cheerful word—she was always available.

“She had a huge heart, so strong and so beautiful in every way.”

For those interested in contributing to Kathy’s Corner, there will be a work gathering on Saturday, Sept. 28, from 9 a.m. -noon.

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