Building from the beginning

She always had a stacks of books at home.  

Growing up with a mother who was a children’s librarian, Alma Cortes had a lot of material to read.

It ultimately lead to her career.

Cortes joined the Pierce College staff this semester as an instructor in the Child Development Department.

“Child Development is the foundation for a lot of what you need to understand people, where they are going and what they are all about,” Cortes said.

During her youth, Cortes was unsure of what she wanted to do when she grew up. When she reached high school, she thought that she may enjoy teaching English, but quickly realized that it wasn’t the path for her.

During college, Cortes spent her time babysitting and volunteering with children. Upon graduation, she was given an opportunity to work at a summer camp, and thought to herself, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’

“I realized that this is such an amazing opportunity, because it is such an important time for children to learn and grow,” Cortes said. “Those first years of life are so important to child development.”

After graduating from Rutgers University in New Jersey, Cortes was offered a teaching job. Although Cortes didn’t have a teaching credential, she was told by the program director that she was going to be the lead teacher of the preschool that employed her.

Cortes took her love for children’s books and knowledge of children’s literature to get to know the children better, making them interested in books and helping them understand them better.

Cortes said that knowing that there are people who aren’t fully qualified to be teaching these children at a delicate time in their lives, is what has kept her in the field.

“Those first years are such an important time in a child’s life, that it isn’t fair they would have people like me thrown into a classroom and told to teach. I had to make the best of it and make sure I’m the best I can be,” Cortes said.

Cortes said her favorite topics to teach are: attachment, understanding our earliest experiences, who our parents are, how they nurture us and how that prepares us to have relationships for the rest of our lives. She said this is important, because with this knowledge, students can now have a better understanding of how to deal with certain life situations.

Stacey Longmore is a Child Development instructor who works with Cortes.

“She has jumped in with both feet since the first day that she was here, and I loved her,” Longmore said.

Cortes has taught at Cal State Northridge, Valley College, Pacific Oaks College and at UCLA for eights years in the child development department and the psychology department.

One of the classes that Cortes teaches at Pierce is Child Development 1, an introduction to early child development.

“Students learn about the life span of development,” Cortes said. “They learn why you have tantrums at two, and why that comes back at thirteen, and why we are so unsure of ourselves at eighteen.”

Cortes is also teaching Child Development 7, which is about working with children, family and the community. Cortes said that the class deals with more social concerns and real-life situations, which revert back to the fundamental years.

Cecilia Coronel, a student at Pierce, is enrolled in Cortes’ class.

“She’s very nice and explains the material very well. She welcomes questions, and she has a lot of consideration for her students,” Coronel said.

One of Cortes’ biggest interests, she said, is developing a strong child development workforce and sending students out into the field, whether it be in teaching, administration or any job that involves children, and apply the theories and principles they have learned to support the youngest members of society.

Cortes said that the first three years of life are the most crucial to development, and if we nurture and care and address all issues, while allowing them all the opportunities to learn and grow, then we are sending them on the right path.