Meet Juanita Cabrales, a preschool teacher for over 14 years

Interviewed by AJ Urquidi.

If I could go back in time, I would tell my child-self, “Give it your best even if you fail. Sometimes you have to fail to succeed. As long as you feel comfortable within your skin and you know you have given it your true best, that is what matters. Be happy for you and not to please someone else.” 

Juanita Cabrales teaching mindful breathing and movement to her preschool students at Momentous Institute in Dallas, Texas

Juanita Cabrales teaching mindful breathing and movement to her preschool students at Momentous Institute in Dallas, Texas

When it comes to finding the best options for childhood education with the benefits of working at a personalized level, parents want to rest assured that their kids are in good hands. This is why Momentous Institute has been so crucial in positively shaping the lives of young children in the Dallas area for just short of a century now. Under the leadership of Salesmanship Club of Dallas and with support from philanthropists, the community, and corporations, Momentous Institute is known for customizing its instruction, coaching, and personal therapy to fit the individual demands of each student’s background.  

No one is more equipped to make a difference in these kids’ lives than Juanita Cabrales, a native of Texas who has plenty of experience, along with her spouse, in raising three wonderful children of her own, and who has been a Pre-K teacher at Momentous Institute for more than 14 years. With an Associate’s Credential in Child Development from Dallas County Community College, she is continuing her own education by working towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Bilingual Education. At Momentous Institute, Juanita has specialized in the development of three-year-olds, guiding and strengthening their social-emotional health in order to equip them for the challenges of their advancing education. Juanita had a few expert nuggets of advice and insightful anecdotes to share with us. 

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your work thus far?

The greatest challenge that I have had to overcome at work is being myself when I’m around others and not getting so nervous when I have people observing me in my classroom. I was my worst critic, and now I have learned to be proud of what I do every day. I have learned that you sometimes have to fail to succeed.

What’s the first thing you do when working with a new group of students?

I try to get to know them on a personal level. I try to understand where they are coming from. I show them that I am a person who cares for them, and that I am not looking down at them but seeing them eye to eye. My students are three years old, so it takes a lot for them to trust a grown-up, especially in a new environment. I tell them that the classroom is not my classroom but “our” classroom. On home visits the week before school starts, I take a family picture of each student as well as an individual picture. I post them in the classroom, so when they come in for the first time they see that they are a part of the class. They love it!

What advice do you have for kids and families who are struggling?

I tell kids and families who are struggling that there is hope. It might be difficult to ask for help, but someone is there to help. Don’t give up even if things become challenging. Things are never the same. You learn as you fail; therefore, you get stronger and succeed.

If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you’d most like to tell yourself as a child?

I would tell my child-self, “Give it your best even if you fail. Sometimes you have to fail to succeed. As long as you feel comfortable within your skin and you know you have given it your true best, that is what matters. Be happy for you and not to please someone else.”

Are there any stories of working with kids or caregivers that you’d like to tell?

I learned a lot from a student. This student was extremely challenging from the moment I met him. He had behavioral challenges and loved to touch people, so I learned how to dig deep within myself to find patience and compassion. I learned new strategies to be able to show him how to handle himself and fulfill his needs while also being respectful of everyone else’s personal space. He learned to trust me, and we had a special connection. I feel proud of him every time I see him around the school. He has come a long way.

What books have most inspired you, and are there any on your shelf begging to be read?

I wasn’t really a reader until I learned about mindful breathing and the positive effects it has on someone. I started reading books by Rick Hanson and learning about easy methods to use on a daily basis. I truly enjoyed reading Rules of the Red Rubber Ball by Kevin Carroll. He is a true inspiration that never gave up even in his toughest times.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am truly blessed to be where I am now. Being a teacher has taught me so much. I continue to learn every day. Not only do I teach academics, but I also teach about social-emotional health. I believe that anyone that is centered within themselves is able to accomplish and move forward in a positive direction. Social emotional health is the place to begin.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

I meditate every night before going to bed and throughout the day. I try to eat as healthy as possible but still enjoy eating pizza and burgers. I love to do Zumba at least three to four times a week. If I find an article or anything that I know is going to benefit me in a positive way, I take the time to read it and try new things. I try to take time for myself and have “Me Time” without feeling guilty. I have a journal that I write in almost every day. I pray every morning with my kiddos on our way to school and work.

To learn more about Juanita's work or to contact her, visit the Momentous Institute's website.

To learn more about mindfulness in early childhood education, listen to Susan Kaiser Greenland's interview on the podcast Preschool & Beyond.