More than Numbers: How This Math Teacher Connects with Students

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Kevin Castro has always known that he wanted to teach. “You know how in kindergarten they ask kids, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said teacher,” laughed Castro, a math teacher at Ánimo Venice Charter High School. Castro joined Green Dot in 2017; he was drawn to our college-prep focused academic programs, small class sizes, and our commitment to meeting students where they are.

When Castro was deciding on where to teach, it was important that the school offered programs that helped students develop self-efficacy, perseverance, self-motivation, and other key skills students need to be successful in college and life. He found that in Green Dot’s advisory programming. Our schools’ Advisory model provides students with a safe space to build positive relationships, increase academic resilience, and develop college-ready skills outside of their core classes.

“You know how in kindergarten they ask kids, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said teacher,” - Kevin Castro

“With the advisory program we're talking about their social emotional needs, what's going on outside school,” said Castro. Amid distance learning, our advisory program has remained a crucial safe zone where students cope with the unprecedented shifts in their lives. In these sessions, he tries to maintain normalcy for his students and ensure the space effectively meets their needs Across the network, advisory has aided both students and teachers greatly. “Being able to check in with them one on one, celebrating birthdays in the room and making it eventful and memorable for them.”

In both his advisory and math classes, Castro creates opportunities to build and strengthen positive relationships with his students. “One thing that's cool and that I've seen him bringing his personality into the classroom. You know that can be hard in a virtual world,” said Megan Brisco, math curriculum specialist at Green Dot. If a student is having a difficult day in Castro’s class, they know when they log in to their class, they will be greeted by an attentive and engaged teacher who cares about their well-being and life beyond the classroom.

“Just making sure that they know that there's someone who's there for them. Someone who is going to tell them to have a good day, who is pushing them, someone who believes in them 100%,” said Castro. I’m a student’s biggest cheerleader. They know that there’s someone who supports them 100%, and that's what keeps me going.”

New Challenges, New Tools

For the last 20 years, collaboration has been a guiding principle for Green Dot. We know that in order for our educators to best serve students, we must provide them with ample professional development, resources, and support to hone their craft and harness their full potential.

Last spring at the onset of the global pandemic, Castro recalls struggling with how to best engage students in math. “One of the issues that I had was that I couldn’t see the students’ work, I couldn’t see what they were writing and I didn’t know what they were thinking,” said Castro. He immediately turned to his curriculum specialist for support. She worked with him on incorporating Desmos, an online math platform, into his virtual classroom. “He was very reflective in what the challenges he was experiencing were. I introduced him to this platform, he had training on it, and then he ran with it and has been using it the rest of the year,” said Megan Brisco, Math curriculum specialist at Green Dot. Desmos gave Castro the ability to see how students are processing the material in real-time. “I can see everybody's work live at the same time. And so I can see who is working, who is on the right track, and who I need to help.”

Having the support of his curriculum specialist, school leadership, and Green Dot colleagues has been invaluable. “My assistant principal who oversees the math department is always willing to help. I can reach out to other colleagues within Green Dot and I also have my department as well,” said Castro. “So there's a plethora of people that I can talk to if I have to work something out with the curriculum.”

Even in their virtual classrooms, our teachers are keeping their doors open to collaboration. Brisco has shared several of Castro’s strategies and practices with other teachers and created new opportunities for educators to expand their impact. One practice of Castro’s that’s been effective is his approach to in class problem solving. Castro provides students with the space to process their thoughts and ideas. “It seems like this really small thing, but he will stay muted and allow students that processing time and then give the feedback after, whether it's through chat or unmuting. I see him respect that time for his students,” reflected Brisco. This culture of collaboration where teachers can freely share their practices and experiences allows our teachers to capitalize on one another's strengths and expertise, support each other's growth trajectories, and address challenges together.

Green Dot is proud of our educators like Castro, who have created learning environments where our students thrive. His experiences remind us that, at its core, teaching is about relationships and community. This year, our educators have stepped up to support our students and their colleagues in new ways. Across the network, our schools are doing whatever it takes to meet the academic and socioemotional needs of our students, ensuring their success even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.