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'Has a heart for service': Mariela Hernandez is running for CHCCS Board of Education

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Editor's note: This story is part of a series on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Board of Education candidates. The Daily Tar Heel is not endorsing any CHCCS school board candidates.

Mariela Hernandez, a Carrboro resident running for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, said she hopes to bridge gaps between families in underrepresented communities and the district, and to help those families receive the support they need. 

Hernandez works for Orange County’s Rapid Re-Housing Program, which aims to quickly return unhoused individuals and families to permanent housing. Before working with the Rapid Re-Housing Program, she previously worked as a family navigator for Orange County’s Family Success Alliance, an organization that aims to help families in poverty gain access to helpful resources. 

Hernandez was also involved in the McDougle Middle School PTA when her child attended the school. 

“I advocate for community,” she said. “I might not be an educator — I want to hear from educators and understand what their struggle is going through the school system themselves.”

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez said she and her fellow PTA members sent out a Google Form questionnaire to the entire school to gauge the needs of students and families.

“We were able to connect families to rental assistance, build assistance [and] materials that the teachers could send out to kids in school,” Hernandez said. 

One concern Hernandez has is the attitude of educators toward children — specifically nonwhite children — in regard to post-high school plans. 

“We have faculty that tells our kids that either they’re college material or not, and words are big — they can influence a child when they don’t have 100% belief in themselves,” Hernandez said. “I want that to change. I want teachers to be teachers, faculty to be trained to be culturally adequately knowledgeable and not to have assumptions on our children.” 

Lori Carter, former McDougle Middle School PTA president, said that Hernandez has "her finger on the pulse" of her community.

Carter said McDougle has a substantial Spanish-speaking population, and that families have to deal with a language barrier along with other needs. 

While she was on the PTA, Hernandez, who was born in Mexico, created two WhatsApp groups to communicate with English and Spanish-speaking parents of McDougle Middle School students, helping to spread information regarding events.

"She's always somebody who's kind and approachable, and always has a heart for service," Carter said.

Mariela has four children — two are graduates of CHCCS, one is currently in high school within the district and one is 4 years old with autism who is about to enter the school system. 

“I have worked with community members that have had a lot of challenges getting their kids [Individualized Educational Plans] or 504s,” Hernandez said. “Just getting special education for their children has been really tough, so one of my big passions is providing excellent education for those kids who are exceptional.” 

Hernandez also worked as the co-chair of the Orange County Food Council, an organization aiming to improve food access locally. 

“It is striking to me how much I have been able to trust Mariela, and how willing she is to navigate difficult things, repair when necessary — she’s not like, ‘I’m perfect, I can do no harm,’” former Orange County Food Council coordinator Ashley Heger said. “It’s her willingness to be okay with the messiness and to always pull out the other side as someone that you can truly trust.” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Mariela Hernandez has three children. She has four, with two having graduated from CHCCS schools, one currently enrolled in a CHCCS school and one who has not started school yet. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

@LolaOliverio

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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