#LatinosTeach, Recognizing Irene Castillon


Irene Castillon is the proud daughter of Celedonio and Consuelo Castillon; both of whom she considers her greatest teachers. Although they don’t have a high school or college degree they have taught her lessons of resiliency, sacrifice and humility. Irene received a Bachelor’s in Education from Brown University and her Master’s in Education from Stanford University. Irene is currently the founding Academic Dean and Mexican-American history teacher at the Luis Valdez Leadership Academy (LVLA) in east San Jose; a charter school managed by the Foundation for Hispanic Education. Irene is collaborating with Stanford Professor Albert Camarillo to plan the Mexican-American history course with the goal of creating an on-line portal where other teachers will be able to access the course content. As a first-generation college graduate who shares a similar background to the students in east San Jose, she feels fortunate and humbled to work in a community to which she feels such a close connection. LVLA is committed to providing a rigorous academic program designed to instill a lifelong passion for learning and to equip students with the skills for social and academic success at four-year colleges, universities and local community colleges.

Why do you teach?  Each day, my students are the proof that I was not the “exception to the rule.” The “rule” embedded in some people’s stereotypical beliefs that Latinos from low-socioeconomic backgrounds living in urban areas are not expected to achieve academically because they end up pregnant or involved in gangs. My students defy statistics with every question that they pose, with every essay that they write and with every college application they submit. I remember sitting at my Brown commencement, eager to start the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) and being excited about the hope that one day one of my students would be sitting in a classroom at Brown. Three years ago, I read the same opening line of a Brown acceptance letter, but this time it was addressed to Julia, one of my students. Again, I felt the overwhelming feeling of joy as she hugged me and told me that she had been accepted. Julia was the first person from her high school to apply to Brown and get accepted. She is the first person in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. While in high school, Julia, her mother and her younger brothers were homeless. Through everything, Julia remained focused on her college going goal. When Julia graduates from college in two years, she will break the cycle of poverty in her family and change her family’s trajectory forever. Julia has expressed that after graduation she wants to return to San Jose as either a science teacher or a computer science engineer. I teach because education creates change; because I believe that education has the power to transform not just a student, but families, communities and societies.

What do you love about teaching?  I love teaching because I get to see the breakthroughs that students make on a daily basis. I love when students question and challenge the status quo through class discussions; I love to see them believe that they can change the trajectory of the trends of injustice that they encounter. Forging relationships and genuine connections with students and families over time is at the center of my practice. I love getting invited to students’ quinceañeras or family parties and seeing the school and the home, two worlds that students often see as clashing, become one-harmoniously.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?  Ms. Scambray, my AP Literature teacher challenged me to dream big; she supported me along my college journey- from proofreading my personal statements, to walking me through how to fill out my FAFSA to letting me borrow her credit card to pay for college applications due to my family’s financial circumstances. She was a teacher that believed in me when I was ready to give up on myself; she was the teacher that made me want to be someone’s Ms. Scambray.