2023 Student Essay Contest: 9-12 Honorable Mention

“LaQuanta Hernandez–Created to Count”

by: Abraham Hernandez (Mission High School)

Interviewee: LaQuanta Hernandez (Mission Consolidated Independent School District)

They recognized early on that she was different. She knew it too, but deep down she just wanted to blend in and not bring any unwanted attention to herself. She remembers the principal from her elementary school meeting with her mother. They had agreed that at 8 years old she would be placed exclusively in Gifted and Talented classes. It was looked at as a great opportunity for her, but she felt otherwise. The problem was that she was the only African American girl in a class full of affluent white students. They stared at her kinky hair and her oversized, hand-me-down clothes. Though she tried to tune them out, she still heard the whispers and the giggles. The other African American children in the regular classes constantly teased her for being smart and for talking too “proper”. She felt like she didn’t belong, and she was ridiculed daily as a reminder.

She recalled knowing the answers to questions when called upon, but slyly pretending not to know so as not to stand out. She also spoke very little so as not to get teased for her grammar. She knew she didn’t fit in, so instead, she counted herself out. She kept to herself and immersed herself in books and puzzles. Getting lost in the logic of puzzles and in the lives of the story book characters she read about was her “safe” place. There, she didn’t get taunted, stared at, or picked on. She didn’t have to pretend to be less, she could simply just be.

Born and raised in a small Texas town, LaQuanta Bivens thrived on the love of her family. Growing up, both her maternal and paternal grandmothers were instrumental in her upbringing, and both stressed the importance of education early on. It wasn’t until her parents divorced when she was 13 years old that her life changed for the better. It was a blessing in disguise.

She had moved to a new town and began attending a new school. She was shocked to find diversity in her new classes. She even found other children who looked like her that enjoyed puzzles and books just as much as she did! She also found teachers who caught on very quickly that she was hiding her giftedness. Her math teacher, in particular, shared that she saw something great in her that she felt had been lying dormant for years. Soon after, Mrs. Tipton made it her priority to create the right conditions for LaQuanta to bloom and flourish. Overtime, LaQuanta stopped pretending and holding back who she truly was. She stood taller, she spoke with authority, and she wasn’t afraid to show her giftedness. She’d realized that she had given the people around her the power to shape the negative perception that she had of herself, and she vowed never to let that happen again.

Fast forward 8 years, and LaQuanta became a first-generation college graduate earning her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly the University of Texas–Pan American), Master of Education Administration from Lamar University, and a certificate in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell University.

Though she’d always been an avid reader and writer (journaling), she did not become aware of her love for math until she became a teacher. Math chose her and it became her ministry to positively shape young minds. She remembers how she personally struggled with Algebra as an 8th-grade student. Her goal was to be the educator who broke math down to its simplest form in order to build it back up so that students could truly understand where the numbers came from. She didn’t want her students to struggle as she had. She wanted to be the educator that made math fun and enjoyable instead of the source of a headache. Seeing the blossoming of her students over time inspired her to want to learn more and become an expert at her craft. In an effort to reach more students and make a greater impact, LaQuanta accepted her current role as a district mathematics coordinator serving 14 elementary schools, pre-kindergarten through 5th grade.

Some of her accomplishments as a mathematics educator consist of being selected as a recipient of the National Rebecca DuFour Women in Leadership Award, twice being named Teacher of the Year, and being selected as 1 of 13 mathematics educators in the K-12 educational system as a “2022 Black Mathematician Honoree” by Mathematically Gifted and Black.

However, LaQuanta is most proud of the relationships she has built and the impact she has made in the lives of her students and the teachers that she serves. Her goal is to always inspire those around her by simply making them aware that they are valued, that they are seen, that they are heard, that they are loved, and that they were created to count in this world.

Her most proud personal accomplishment, besides being married to her best friend, is being a mother. There is no rule book, and she doesn’t feel that she gets it right every time, but her children are her greatest blessings. They have taught her how to stand strong in the face of adversity and to push through every obstacle with faith and perseverance.

The words of wisdom that she would like to share is simply to always protect your inner peace and love as Jesus loved. “Math may not teach us how to add love or subtract hate, but it gives us every reason to hope that every problem has a solution” – Author Unknown.