Student Spotlight: Christina Castillo and Jennifer Aguirre

July 18, 2022

At the end of her first year of teaching first grade at Compass Rose Ingenuity Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, Christina Castillo got the “positive force of nature” award. It seemed like every time her supervisors observed her, her students were calling out chants that Castillo had created to engage them and help them remember the material. As a student in the Relay Graduate School of Education Master of Arts in Teaching - Teaching Residency program, she says that Relay gave her the support to emphasize the “joy factor” in her classroom.

Her friend and fellow Relay resident Jennifer Aguirre has no shortage of positive energy either. Now that, like Castillo, she’s finished two years of teaching (and graduated from their master’s program), Aguirre has organized an art show, two school trips, and a science fair. She successfully implemented a new K-2 curriculum focused on science, coding, art, and aviation.

At the end of the 2021-22, Castillo and Aguirre got some more awards: Castillo was named teacher of the year, and Aguirre was named rookie of the year. 

But this recognition was for more than their enthusiasm. 100% of Castillo’s 3rd grade students made reading growth this past year, and the 3rd grade ELA scores as a whole were higher than other schools in the district. Aguirre’s supervisor called her one of their best grade team leads (GTL), and she will continue in leadership as the 3rd grade GTL next year. And Castillo is taking on the responsibilities of the 4th grade GTL in the coming year.

But both educators say they have been told that one of their greatest strengths is the ability to take and run with feedback. Both describe how when their mentor teachers model new skills, they are eager to watch, practice, and implement. 

They say these skills are baked into their Relay experience, where they were regularly asked to write lessons and present them in front of their peers for feedback. Those continuous growth sessions were never scary, but rather infused with positive regard for the hard work of first year teachers. Castillo spoke about how she felt that spirit of grace from her Relay advisor personally, when she encouraged the young teacher to rest and recenter when she was experiencing struggles.

They are also baked into each teacher’s personal story. Both Castillo and Aguirre say that they were not particularly drawn to the subject matter they now teach - ELA and science - when they were in school. But from studying it through the eyes of a teacher, and working with their mentors, they have now both come to love it.

Both are Texas natives who love the community in San Antonio. They say they aspire to be their students’ “favorite teacher” - the one who makes them want to come to school. Both experienced some negativity in their own school experiences, so they want their students to know that they are not just there to teach them exciting new ideas and skills, but that they will also be there for them emotionally - just as they’ve experienced from their mentors along the way.

Thank you, Christina and Jennifer, for the hard work you’re doing for your community every day!