In what part of town do you live?
I live in Cutler Bay.
How long have you lived in Cutler Bay?
Oh my gosh. 17 years now. We lived in Kendall before. We moved here when I was pregnant with my twin daughters. The condo we were in was not gonna cut it. I’m originally from Brazil, but I moved to Miami when I was three. So, I’m basically a Miami native.
What keeps you busy during the week?
I am the Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Florida International University. So, I spend a lot of my time at work.
What does being a Dean entail?
I’m a university administrator. I oversee the School of Education faculty. Oftentimes they’re individuals who prepare teachers to become teachers in the school system. It’s a lot of administrative work, but I think it’s really great because I get to work in a university environment. For college people that never wanted to leave college, you go on to become a faculty member and then go into administrative roles. I feel really fortunate to work with so many young people and brilliant researchers. I’m happy to do it.
What led you to this role?
I was interested in psychology as an undergraduate at FIU. And then, I became a graduate student at the University of Miami, interested in the development of children from birth to age five. After I finished graduate school, I went into a position as a professor at FIU. I’ve been there now for 16 years. I’ve moved into this administrative role because I am very interested in ensuring that we’re doing the best we can for education, for little kids onto university students. I think education should be the great equalizer.
You mentioned working with brilliant researchers. What kind of research are you doing?
I do work looking at the capability of certain skill sets and what predicts achievement later on. One of the things I researched was looking at early writing skills and its ability to predict later achievement. I conducted my research on a very large data set of kids in Miami and found that kids who had better writing skills at age four were more likely to do better in school when they were in the third grade. It got quite a bit of press.
What is the connection between writing skills and academic achievement?
What we find in early childhood is that kids need to have experiences. Some of it is resources you’re given access to, like markers or crayons, and it is also how early you start the writing process. There’s a connection between being able to write and being able to do well academically. There’s a lot of research that shows college students who write their notes versus take a laptop to class have an advantage. When they type, it’s so automatic that they’re not thinking about it anymore. Being able to produce a letter with your hands is very different from pressing the letter a on a keyboard, right? If you press a letter B or C, it all feels the same, but if you’re writing it, it’s creating a memory in your brain.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I have three kids that are all swimmers. I spend a lot of time on pool decks. I’m actually leaving tomorrow for a trip to North Carolina, because my older daughters are swimming at winter junior nationals. Other than that, my husband and I really enjoy finding time to just go out. Now that our kids are old enough, we can just go out on a weekend and have a nice evening out.
You’ve been coming by the drive through regularly. What’s that experience like?
Well, I am a person who typically on Sunday mornings wants to stay in bed as long as possible, but I have to say that those Turmeric Bagels pull me out of bed to make sure I get there in time.
What do you all pick up when you come by?
Always the Rainbow Smoothies. The family pack of the Turmeric Bagels, which my daughters also enjoy. The Turmeric Concentrate. The Frice ice cream is a family favorite. And, now the yogurt. I’m sure there will be others, it’s a growing list.
When you and Don find time to go out, have you found any places to recommend, or other places that you regularly go to?
We recently went to Peacock Garden in Coconut Grove. It is so nice to be outside this time of year in the evening. It was lovely. Some of my favorite spots are near work. I eat often at specialTEA Lounge. They have really good sandwiches, paninis, bowls, and vegan cookies – which are just delicious. Another place we recently found, is called the Good Chef in Sweetwater. It’s probably some of the best Asian food I’ve had in Miami. It’s very tiny, there’s like six tables and it’s attached to a market.
What’s Miami’s best kept secret?
I feel like West Kendall is the best kept secret! I swear, I tell everyone about your grove stand. The area has some amazing businesses. My kids grew up going to Reach for the Arts, which is an art program near you. And my kids originally learned to swim at Ocaquatics. There this little group of West Kendall businesses that have been instrumental in my life and my kids’ life. And now you guys, we go every weekend!
What for you is a worthy splurge?
Always good food and good experiences. I would rather not spend money on material things. My favorite thing to spend money on is being out with people you love.
Are there any community or philanthropic groups that are important to you that you might promote or share?
I give a lot to FIU. I give to the first generation fund that funds students who are the first in their families to go to college. I believe very much in education. The Children’s Movement of Florida for instance is one that I give to regularly. Institutions that generally focus on education are always on my brain.
Is there a question, words of advice or a challenge you might like to pose to the community?
Can we just be kind.
Is there a pitch about anything you’re working on that you would like to share?
No pitch. But – I’m a big believer in small businesses. Support local as much as possible. I’m always looking for good coffee spots and places that you can support as opposed to the bigger places.
Is there a question you would like to ask us?
(LD) Will you be around forever?
(A+W) As long it’s always so much fun, it will be hard to stop. Every weekend is like having a party and your friends come and hang out. What more can you ask for?
We are planning to interview Don next week. What should we ask him?
Ooh. Ask him to tell you a story. Some of his stories are just ‘crazy land.’