John Castro 01' (Liberal Studies), MA '03 (Education Technology)

Taking teaching into the future

John Castro
When John Castro was named 2010 Teacher of the Year by Sacramento TV station News10 and the Sacramento City Unified School District, he gave much of the credit for his award-winning teaching style to the internet master’s degree in educational technology or “iMet” he received from Sac State.

“The iMet definitely taught me how to combine cutting-edge technology with effective teaching strategies,” says Castro.

When he shared iMet’s technology-based learning techniques with his principal at Earl Warren Elementary, she embraced his suggestion to introduce it to the school. She found the funds to install LCD projectors and SMART interactive whiteboards in all classrooms and “it changed the culture of the school.”

The techno-savvy Castro has provided training for his colleagues and run mini-workshops during staff meetings. “We have great teachers here. It’s a very collaborative environment,” he says.

Castro’s students learn to create PowerPoint presentations, newsletters, digital photo albums and videos. They have their own websites where they share stories about themselves and their aspirations. Parents can visit their child’s classroom website to see what the students are learning.

Earl Warren is a Title I school, with a large concentration of low-income students. But while many Title I schools struggle to meet the state Academic Performance Index, Castro says at Earl Warren “our scores are rocking it.” The school received an 806 on the Index, just above the national goal of 800, and well above the average of 650 for similar Title I schools. As Earl Warren’s scores improved, “word started spreading about what we were doing, and now we get people touring the school to watch us teach our lessons.”

Engaging the kids with technology-based lessons has been successful, Castro says, but it’s also important to engage parents. Castro and other teachers participate in the Parent-Teacher Home Visits program, where they go to student homes, meet families and build relationships they’ll maintain over the years. “I give them my cell phone number and encourage them to stay in contact with me.”

He will work with these students for more than just a school year as he teaches on a “loop.” He stays with the same group of students as they progress through the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. “It’s more work because you have to master three years of curriculum, but it’s good for the kids,” he says. “When they come back in September, I already know most of them, so we can just get started. We are ahead of the game here.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 edition of Sac State Magazine.