“My mom always says ‘when one door closes, another door opens.’ It might be windows, but I like doors better, I work with them a lot,” said Gabriel Fernandez, longtime FCCPS maintenance specialist.
This year marks his 22nd year serving as the electrical specialist with the Falls Church City schools.
Fernandez and the rest of the maintenance team work 12 months out of the year, embarking on larger-scale projects in the summer and operating the snow plows throughout the city in the winter.
Fernandez has mostly been concerned with the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, the boilers, the bell schedule, and much more. His job circles throughout all the schools, but is primarily centered at GM and in the trailers when they used to operate as classrooms.
“[My work] is so varied, everyday is different. You never know which problem or situation would arise, I used to even have to chase animals around [school],” he said.
Fernandez carried out what probably became one of the biggest projects of his career last summer, which consisted of replacing every single ceiling light bulb in all four Falls Church City school buildings. Despite the countless reparations that can be accredited to Fernandez and his team, it is more often than not that his work goes unheard of.
“We’re part of the background. You don’t think about us until you need us, that’s the nature of the work, but we accept that,” he said.
This is the least of Fernandez’s concerns, though. To him, it’s all about the sense of self-accomplishment from finishing a project and the beauty of the relationships he derives from them.
“It gets personable after a while, it goes beyond asking to fix stuff. You build relationships [with others], and you get to bond over that,” he said. “The interaction with people, once you celebrate those who have had children or passed away, it [becomes] like family. That’s what I’ll pull away from it [and] what I’ve grown to love.”
Fernandez’s retirement will give him more time to be with his own family and help to spend time his granddaughter, who is expected to arrive in late June. The “next step” for him has yet to be determined this summer. Once his family is settled in, however, something involving education might be in the picture.
Fernandez’s credentials make him eligible to substitute for paraprofessional teachers, but whether he wants to join his son, GM paraprofessional teacher Mr. Sean Fernandez, or pursue the next level of education to become a full time teacher or substitute is currently undecided.
“It’s great to be in an educational environment, you learn something new every day,” Fernandez said. “I’ve [found] that is not always what you’ve learned, but it’s also what you reconcile with your heart… Education is more than learning dry things, because whatever you learned, you’ll use it, not only to problem solve, but to interact with people, get a better understanding of them.”
Education is clearly an important part of Fernandez’s life, and whether he decides to continue be involved in a school setting, stay home with his family, or even embark in another pastime, Fernandez will undoubtedly find his place.
“It’s like a chapter: it begins and ends, and then you start a new chapter. That’s the way I like to look at it,” he said.
(GMHS Class of '18; Lasso Staff 2014-17)
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