It was 1992, his second year at UCLA as a premed student, when Roman took a job for a few hours a week as a teaching assistant at UCLA’s Bellagio Center, which provides child care for the preschool children of students, faculty and staff.
Not that being with kids was new to him. As the oldest of five children, he recalls, “I always helped with the kids at home and in my neighborhood. They would just kind of gravitate toward me.”
His new job went so well that Roman gave up medicine and switched to a major in history. He has worked for UCLA Child Care Services ever since. Today, he is a lead teacher at University Village Center in West L.A.
Single, with no children of his own, Roman has his hands full with a classroom of 24 3-1/2-to-5-year-olds. He has developed a reputation for his work with high-spirited, hard-to-handle children.
“I tend to look at those kids and wonder, ‘What is it about you that makes you so feisty, and how can I help you use your feistiness in a positive way?’ ” he says of his approach.
Roman has become so accomplished that he has been featured on “HeadsUp Reading,” a distance-learning satellite broadcast network sponsored nationally by Head Start and in California by the Department of Education and the California Association for the Education of Young Children. The program showcased the work he and his UCLA Child Care Services colleagues have done to introduce literacy to very young children.
“We start at infancy,” he says. “A lot of people think the kids are too little, but we’ve been able to establish a foundation for learning that allows children to come to reading and writing at an early age.”
In his free time, Roman visits other child-care centers to offer training and assistance. He has also been active in recruiting other men to the traditionally female field of early child care and education. For the past three years, he and University Village Director Gerardo Soto have done workshops statewide on recruiting and retaining men.
Having men as teachers early in a child’s life is crucial, Roman believes: “It introduces them to a positive role model of men as nurturing, caring, calm and charismatic.”
The Men in Education Network honored Roman with the 2002 Teacher of Children Award, recognizing him for his strong desire to make a difference in the lives of children.
“We have to take care of the children now, while they’re little,” Roman says. “We have to make sure that we’re nurturing things that are important, that we’re steering them in the right direction.”