Capoeira Master, Guitarist, and Polyglot


Photo by: Kate Perry

Philip Hernandez teaching his Spanish I class

Kate Perry

Towering over his students at a height of 6’6″, Spanish teacher Philip Hernandez has a number of surprises up his sleeve.  Hernandez, who joined the staff of CCHS this year and teaches Spanish I, has been studying capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, for 11 years.
When asked how he discovered capoeira, Hernandez explained that he had a crush on a girl who was studying it and joined her class.  The girl ultimately dropped the class, but Hernandez kept doing it.  “I guess I liked capoeira more than the girl,” he said.
Hernandez currently teaches a capoeira class in South LA and trains for at least half an hour every day.  “Don’t mess with him,” said math teacher Justin Wong, who shares a classroom with Hernandez.
Hernandez also sings and plays guitar in a soul/rock/jazz band called “Two Strangers on a Stage”.  The band has performed at various local venues and consists of Hernandez and violinist Dana Maman.
After teaching at charter schools in South LA and Koreatown, Hernandez was pleased to come to Culver, where he has been wanting to teach for several years.  Culver is almost four times the size of his former school, and affords more opportunities for students to get involved in activities.  “Whatever students are passionate about, there’s a place to express themselves,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez first learned Spanish in middle school in order to communicate better with his relatives from El Salvador.  He now speaks a total of five languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and French.  “He speaks every language taught at this school,” said Wong.  Hernandez is still trying to improve his Japanese and French, and seizes every chance to practice his conversational skills with French teacher Kathy Varlotta and Japanese teachers Akiko Sato and Chiaki Gomyo.  “He always asks me to speak to him in Japanese,” said Sato.  “He insists.”
Hernandez shares classrooms with Wong and other teachers.  Certain aspects of sharing can be difficult.  “Things aren’t where you left them,” Wong said.  But he and Hernandez also agree that they have similar teaching styles and personalities.  “We can bounce ideas off each other,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez’s favorite aspect of teaching is seeing how much his students have learned at the end of the year.  “They couldn’t speak Spanish before my class, but after a couple of years they can actually have conversations with me,” he said.