Enrichment program helps students cope with ‘new normal’

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Bernadette Fernandez

By Alysha Conner

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Bernadette Fernandez, the founder of Imagine Etiquette and Image Consulting, is providing students with practical coping tools as the pandemic persists.

Imagine Etiquette consists of custom-designed programs that teach proper manners combined with social-emotional learning.

The enrichment organization has provided local youth with leadership, etiquette, and life skills training since 2014.

Fernandez recently shifted her initiative to help students maximize quarantine time and maintain their academics digitally.

“They’re not handling the pandemic well,” Fernandez said. “Students are online a lot more and judging themselves based on what they see on social media.”

“I have a middle school student who was a straight-A student before the pandemic. And then she started failing all of her classes. So we had to jump in and help. Some of my kids are homeless and in foster care. So I see everything. It has been extreme.”

Many high school students throughout the area have expressed having issues managing their :new normal.”

According to a survey conducted by Imagine Etiquette, lack of social interaction has adversely affected students’ academics and mental health.

Only 28% of students felt like they were progressing in their distance-learning environment. More than 58% of high school students reported experiencing some level of depression during the past semester.

And 66% of students reported that navigating academics online has, to some degree, negatively impacted their emotions.

Social-emotional learning “has become more known and talked about this year and last year,” Fernandez said.

“When the pandemic hit, you saw more educators talking about SEL. I don’t think schools were taking it seriously before. They were pushing the academic piece of education, and not realizing that academics will not matter if you don’t deal with the whole child. Focusing on the whole child helps the child feel more cared for and understood.”

Social-emotional learning refers to developing self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills that prove vital for school, work, and life success. It is measured by a person’s actions, behaviors and decision-making.

People with strong social-emotional skills are more likely to cope with everyday challenges while excelling academically, professionally and socially.

“I’ve been involved with the Imagine Etiquette program since it was added to my school schedule, three years ago,” said Bree Wilkerson, a 15-year-old student and an Imagine Etiquette participant. “I fell in love with the class on the first day. Mrs. Fernandez taught us about Black history, how to be a lady, friendship, and more. She helped build up my confidence and made me look at the world differently.”

“Mrs. Fernandez has also taught me how to cope with not seeing my peers,” Wilkerson added. “She tells us to keep busy, so we don’t overthink things. When I’m not busy with school, I’m working towards getting my driver’s permit and license.”

When the virus disrupted all in-person learning last spring, Fernandez was forced to make some changes.

She hired a marketing agency to help revamp Imagine Etiquette’s website and business model.

Then she condensed her Self-Esteem, Value and Awareness curriculum into a four-week Zoom program.

Each week consists of an hour-long discussion designed to encourage, empower and elevate students.

The program is available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It was like starting over again,” Fernandez said. “As the pandemic hit, I decided to go back to the beginning. I went back to the teachings of my mother. When you’re down, you have to get up and fight because nobody is going to fight for us but us. So, I had to rebrand and rebuild.

“Thank God I have a village.”

Fernandez and her two instructors began teaching online classes last September.

Imagine Etiquette’s new virtual program discusses topics like manners, self-esteem, public speaking, interviewing, resumé writing, and social media etiquette.   

The program is offered as an after-school enrichment program and elective for local schools.

It is currently available at Scholarship Prep Charter High School and will soon be taught at Magnolia Science Academy.

“Mrs. Fernandez’s class has us around other girls who look like me and go through the same things as me,” said Brooke Wilkerson, another Imagine Etiquette participant.

“She’s given me so much insight on things like budgeting, creating a daily to-do list, and keeping a journal for goals. Mrs. Fernandez taught me how to hone in on the skills I already had to make passive income. Now she’s helping me start a business and teaching me about taxes.”

Although COVID-19 has been life-altering, students have learned beneficial coping skills like time management, Zoom etiquette, and keeping a gratitude journal.

Fernandez attributes her curriculum to the values she learned from her mother and grandmother.

They taught her several etiquette and confidence-building attributes like daily affirmations, which she has incorporated into Imagine Etiquette’s curriculum.

“My curriculum is based on how I was raised,” Fernandez said. “The daily affirmations I use for the program are what my mother told me. My idea was to teach young girls how to be confident like my mother taught me.”

“My grandmother taught etiquette classes to my mom when she was young. When my daughter turned 10, I was going to do the same. I had no idea it was going to grow into this. God guided me, and I listened.”

Imagine Etiquette’s four-week virtual program is priced at $25 per session, or $90 if participants pay in full during the initial enrollment.

Scholarships, internships, and other opportunities are offered upon inquiry.

Students are required to submit an essay, along with a resumé and application.

“Mrs. Fernandez gave me my first job,” Bree Wilkerson said. “When I was 12, I was hired as her teacher’s assistant during the summer. Then when school started back, I was able to keep working as her assistant on Sundays.”

For more information about Imagine Etiquette or to register for a program, visit www.imagineet.com.

Alysha Conner is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at aconner@soiwrite.org.