Teacher Feature: Jessica Castillo

Oct 31, 2017

The transition from elementary school to middle school is not always an easy one.

“Our goal is to make this change fun while transitioning students to their new environment,” said Jessica Castillo a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Rincon Vista Middle School in Tucson. “It is important for new sixth graders to form relationships with their peers and with older students to feel at ease when they come to middle school.”

This is why when she received her $5,000 grant through the Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers program last fall, Castillo knew exactly where it would go – straight to funding the middle school transition program at Rincon Vista.

“It’s called WEB which stands for ‘Where Everybody Belongs,’” explained Castillo. “This is a middle school orientation program that trains eighth graders to be mentors for the new sixth-grade class.”

The WEB program is built on the belief that students can help students succeed. While the training and curriculum is part of the Boomerang project, the funding and implementation of WEB is up to the teachers at each school.

“We don’t get any money for this program,” said Castillo. “Before the Fiesta Bowl Charities grant, everything came out of my pocket.”

Simple things such as printing name tags for students to purchasing food and games for WEB orientation and events are major monetary burdens that teachers like Castillo must bear if they want the WEB program to come to life in their hallways.

“This is my fourth year involved in the program and this is the first year that we have had any funding for it,” said Castillo.

The Fiesta Bowl Charities grant has allowed Castillo to fund the program and use money to enhance it. In addition to purchasing the necessary materials, Castillo used the grant to buy a sound system, plan social events to build student camaraderie and cover the costs of 12 Chromebooks and a printer for students to use.

“One of the biggest parts of WEB is student mentorship,” explained Castillo. “Having Chromebooks and a printer on campus allows students a place to do their homework, learn from one another and use resources that many students don’t have access to at home.”

While the WEB program focuses on easing sixth graders into middle school life, eighth graders also benefit, learning leadership and mentorship skills, as well as how to be positive role models.

“A lot of the program is completely managed by the eighth-grade students,” said Castillo. “As teachers we are there just to supervise and it is fun to watch them grow throughout the year.”

Last fall, Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers program assisted 100 different teachers, classrooms and schools throughout Arizona with grants of $5,000 each.

“This program is fantastic,” said Castillo. “Wishes for Teachers is helping the future of our country and our world. To have that money is huge.”

Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers, in partnership with azcentral, is back for a second year and is accepting applications from teachers through this Friday, November 3. This year, the program has launched a text-to-donate campaign and Fiesta Bowl Charities will match up to $500,000 in contributions. To donate to the Wishes for Teachers program, text ‘TEACHERS’ to 51555 or use the online donation form.

“This program is everything,” said Castillo. “We have been able to buy supplies that we would never get on our own and the WEB program is better as a result.”