Less than two years ago, Hedda Herzog, MEd ’74 was teaching a summer school session for youngsters about to enter first grade when she and a co-worker noticed that one girl had stopped attending classes. Soon after, a classmate casually commented that the girl’s father had been murdered. Hedda was saddened, but not shocked. Such incidents occur more often than wanted in the community.
For the past six years, Hedda has been employed as a daily and long-term, elementary-school substitute teacher in Richmond, California. The small city, near Berkeley, ranks among the top ten most violent cities in the country.
“The kids I teach are just kids,” she said. “A lot of them are very wonderful. They do the same things other first-graders do. But, they’re facing a lot of challenges. There are increased classroom sizes with teachers being cut right and left. Many of the kids don’t come from English-speaking homes. At parent conferences, I talk to many parents through an interpreter.”
“There’s violence in the community, gang rape, shootings,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to find out that one of my student’s parents or relatives has been murdered.”
A Far Cry
It’s a far cry from Hedda’s own childhood. She grew up in Manhattan where she attended a small, progressive school with an experiential, hands-on curriculum. American folk singer and icon Pete Seeger was her music teacher. She graduated from New York City’s High School of Music and Art; then in 1969 earned a bachelor degree in art history from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Unsure of what to do with her life, she volunteered for Vista and was assigned to Lowell, Massachusetts. There she developed after school and summer programs for children and teens from low-income, minority families.
Two years later, when her service ended, she moved to Boston and set up a storefront learning center for disadvantaged Spanish and African-American youth modeled after a similar center developed by author, activist, and educator Jonathan Kozol. That prompted her search for a graduate school. “I knew that I wanted to go into education,” she said. “It was a significant part of my life. I looked at several schools, but chose AUNE because it most closely matched my experience and background.”
Hedda, now 64, began her AUNE program in the early ’70s, living in a dorm on the campus, which was then located in Harrisville, New Hampshire. “It basically was a huge mansion set on a hill,” she said. “There was a main building where we had classes, elaborate gardens, and outbuildings. The dorm was upstairs. Downstairs was a common area with a kitchen. We cooked our own meals. There were about ten to fifteen students living there.”
“The first year there was a national energy crisis,” she said. “The heat was set on low. I remember sitting in class, wrapped up in down, wearing gloves. It was freezing.”
The California Experience
After her 1974 graduation, she accepted a position with a Boston social science research firm and landed in the field of public health. In the early ’90’s, she moved to California for a master’s degree in public health at the University of California-Berkeley, and worked briefly as a public health consultant. As a Berkeley student, she took a “toxic tour” of Richmond. Based on what she learned, she developed a photographic display for a class in mass communications and after graduation, presented the display at a national symposium on environmental justice in Washington D.C.
“I knew I wanted to teach. I looked around and there was Richmond,” she said. “Because I had my AUNE degree and teaching certificate, I could get a preliminary California certificate right away. I started teaching as a substitute.”
Every day, Hedda tries to incorporate into a closely structured curriculum what she learned at AUNE. “The kids in Richmond don’t have computers,” she said. “I tell them to go to the library for books and computers. That’s the only place they have. It’s a different world. Their refrigerators at home aren’t covered with pretty pictures! I’ve used books and ideas I learned at AUNE. I wrote a collaborative poem with the children, I Wish. Each child had a line. I’ve done lessons of mandalas. The kids love it.”
“When I bring things from AUNE, the kids respond very positively,” she said. “There’s a connection. I try to give the children the ability and desire to think. I always ask questions. I never just give kids an answer. I bring in things they enjoy; tell them about places I visit, like museums such as the California Academy of Science. I try to make the connection between school, learning, and the world.”
Despite severe challenges, Hedda remains committed to her calling. “It would be less stressful to teach in Berkeley, but I go in every day. If these kids can do it, so can I.”