Arizona School for the Arts

First Day of School, Tuesday, August 14th, 2018!

ASA Board Member Profile - Dr. Javier Cárdenas

Teachers Always Teach
By RC Ward

Dr. Javier Cárdenas walks up to Giant Coffee in a pristinely tailored suit, a professional briefcase, and most importantly a bright wide-awake smile. Flushed with nerves, I stand up to greet a man that seems completely unfazed by the six forty-five A.M. meeting. After a formal greeting and introduction, Dr. Cárdenas casually asks, “Can I get you something? A coffee?” This question is asked a total of three times, causing me to sit back down slightly less stressed because my interviewee is beyond nice and thoughtful, but now I’m slightly more panicked that this doctor is everything that I aspire to be. Dr. Cárdenas orders a hot mug of plain black coffee, thanking the barista twice, and gives me a reassuring smile as I ask my first question.

“I really really love to teach,” Dr. Cárdenas states as he sips his hot mug of freshly poured coffee. “I was worried about losing the educational piece,” when transitioning into the field of medicine. Dr. Cárdenas did not always aspire to be a neurologist in Arizona, he originally got his degree in special education moving to medicine after a conversation he had with a parent of a disabled child. When he asked, “What was it like to raise a child with a disability?” their response focused on physicians, “physicians that would not talk to their child, talk in baby talk, or blame the mother for the child's condition.” His decision launched him into medicine, taking with him the experience of teaching.

“When people come and see me I need to teach them about what's going on with them, I need to teach them how to approach their recovery,” Dr. Cárdenas shares, reminding me of my oral surgeon grandfather that also sees education as the most important part about his patient care. Dr. Cárdenas’ work to educate individuals has been heavily focused on children, especially with his development of the Barrow Brainbook through his work at the Barrow Institute. Dr. Cárdenas, in a clear and teacher-like manner, explains that he created the Barrow Brainbook, “wanting to really inform students on the signs and symptoms of concussion, wanting to let them know what to do when they have a concussion, who to tell, and how to safely return to athletic activity.” Dr. Cárdenas, though he is no longer a teacher, still teaches me about concussion protocol during our interview.

Through Dr. Cárdenas’ work he has experienced some awe-inspiring things, especially for someone that grew up watching football. Dr. Cárdenas is a neurological consultant of the NFL and attends every one of its football games held in Arizona, according to the NBC news article on Dr. Cárdenas. He even attended last year’s Super Bowl, making sure that all the athletes were safe and that any blow to the head was immediately addressed. Though he is on the field at these intense sports, he chose to send his kids to a school that isn’t known for its sports program, Arizona School for the Arts. His decision is not reflective of his views towards sports, he values the positive benefits of outdoor activities and what it does for people's health, but at ASA, he states, “The academic rigor is there, and then when it comes to arts, I do not have a talented bone in my body, nor does my wife.” A loud laugh interrupts the sentence, echoing through the coffee shop, “But we have always had an appreciation for the arts. So it was very natural for us, and I think my kids are far more well-rounded for it.”

Dr. Cárdenas’ love for ASA beams through his smile when talking about how well his kids have done here, but his relationship with ASA surprisingly began with his mom. “There was a woman who was on the board who actually asked my mom to participate on the board,” but his mom quickly transferred the offer to Dr. Cárdenas and he came aboard ASA when the classrooms were in closets and the main campus was a church. At the start of his board membership he was fully ambitious to apply his teaching experience to a growing school. “But I quickly learned that being a good board member is about governance not about making school curriculum.”

As the interview continues, Dr. Cárdenas extends questions to me, the student, wanting to change the structure of our meeting from an interview to a conversation. Smiling that someone so profound and accomplished wanted to hear about my family and education, I shared the commonalities about our lives. When talking about the classes my own parents teach, he, with genuine interest, replies, “That is so amazing!” Dr. Cárdenas’ teacher like approach is comforting for someone who grew up with parents who teach. In my forty-five minute interview with him, Dr. Cárdenas showed genuine interest in me and taught me that the most universal tool I can have in my pursuit of medicine and making a difference in the world is the ability to teach.