St. Robert Bellarmine kindergarten teacher Wyomi Fernando didn’t have a clue sitting in the television audience that she would soon be honored as an outstanding educator on “The Queen Latifah Show.”
“All of a sudden I see my picture on the big screen and I was so much like a kindergartner,” reacting with wide-eyed surprise, said Fernando about being recognized on Queen Latifah’s Teacher Appreciation Day show May 6, which she attended as an invited guest along with her daughter Shannon, son-in-law Ashantha, and school principal Melissa Ronan.
Overcome with tearful emotion, she could hardly walk down to the stage, as Shannon (via prerecorded tape) explained why her mother — a teacher for 34 years in her native Sri Lanka and in the U.S., including 13 at St. Robert Bellarmine — deserved such recognition, which included a kitchen make-over of new appliances and cupboards.
“She engages her kindergarten students through a wide variety of activities and really makes sure that every student knows they are a unique individual,” wrote Ronan in the nominating letter, backed by heartfelt support from St. Robert Bellarmine pastor, Father John Collins, and Fernando’s family.
The letter noted how Fernando arrives early and often stays late at the Catholic elementary school in Burbank, tutoring students of many different grades “because she knows that a school works best when all the teachers are responsible for the growth of students from kindergarten through graduation.”
Fernando, the letter added, regularly shares homemade food with her students, including her popular Sri Lankan rice. “In today’s society,” the letter stated, “we rarely thank our teachers enough and Mrs. Wyomi Fernando is one of the best. A new kitchen would be a way to thank her for her years of service to her students as well as to her family for sharing such an amazing woman with all those blessed to call her teacher and colleague.”
“She’s been using the same appliances for 20 years,” exclaimed Shannon, when her mother was told to turn around and view the new appliances which will soon be installed in her Burbank home. When asked by Queen Latifah what she will cook on her new appliances, Fernando led the list with the school children’s favorite, Sri Lankan rice, followed by beef curry and eggplant curry.
“Queen Latifah knew I was nervous — she held my hand,” said the five-foot-tall Fernando, about ten inches shorter than Queen Latifah. She described the actress/singer/TV personality as “very, very down-to-earth, a sweet lady” who she was honored to meet.
At St. Robert Bellarmine’s annual kindergarten Mother’s Day celebration May 9 for mothers and students, Fernando told The Tidings that she seeks to foster friendship among the kindergartners and transitional kindergartners in her care, and helps them learn to “walk with God.” She tells her students to be supportive and respect each other.
“If respect is there and love is there, everything will come into place,” said Fernando.
“She’s so dedicated and patient with these little ones,” said Erin Sailer, whose fourth child is now attending Fernando’s