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How loan forgiveness made a teaching career possible

May 27, 2016
By Anne Podolsky and Tara Kini
Irene Castillon, MA’ 10, is the founding academic dean and Mexican-American history teacher in east San Jose at the Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, a charter school managed by the Foundation for Hispanic Education.
Irene Castillon, MA’ 10, is the founding academic dean and Mexican-American history teacher in east San Jose at the Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, a charter school managed by the Foundation for Hispanic Education.
In a new policy brief, Irene Castillon, ’MA 10, is an example of the positive benefits achieved by financial support programs for teacher education.

Low salaries and concern over student debt are taking their toll on school districts’ ability to attract and retain talented teachers. This is especially true in such high-demand fields as math and science and in underserved rural and urban communities. The Loan Forgiveness and Service Scholarship brief, written by policy analysts at the Learning Policy Institute, discusses the research related to these two promising approaches for attracting and keeping teachers in the profession. Studies show that when subsidies are large enough to offset teacher preparation costs, these programs can be effective in recruiting and retaining high-quality professionals into the subject-matter fields and communities where they are most needed.

The brief includes the following profile of Irene Castillon, who graduated from the Stanford Teacher Education Program in 2010 with support from an Avery Loan.

After spending a summer in college teaching low-income students in San Jose, CA, Irene Castillon knew she wanted to work to improve educational opportunities in under-resourced communities. As the first in her family to graduate high school, Castillon understood from personal experience the role education plays in creating pathways to opportunity. Without a service scholarship and a forgivable loan, the cost of a teacher preparation program would have been prohibitive, and Castillon—now a sixth-year teacher—might have instead chosen another role in the education ecosystem.

“Teachers lead by example, and we need more passionate teachers that want to enter the profession to set this example for future generations,” says Castillon, who teaches history at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy in east San Jose.

Her passion and accomplishments have inspired countless students who identify with her life experiences. The daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, Castillon grew up in a low-income community outside of Los Angeles and received Perkins and Stafford federal loans to finance her undergraduate studies at Brown University.

As college graduation approached, Castillon knew she wanted to be involved in education, but she was unsure the path to become a teacher was the right one for her. Her parents were struggling financially, and, like many young people, Castillon felt competing tugs—to continue her education at the graduate level or to enter the workforce so she could help to support her family.

Fortunately, Castillon learned about multiple funding sources for her graduate teacher preparation studies. She received loans and service scholarships that covered 100 percent of her graduate studies and helped “fight against her urge” to return home after graduating from Brown, including the Assumption Program of Loans for Education forgivable loan, the Woodrow Wilson Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color, and an Avery Forgivable Loan for Stanford students.

“Without the financial assistance, I don’t think that I would have enrolled in a teacher preparation program and pursued a Master’s degree,” says Castillon.

After graduating from Stanford’s teacher preparation program six years ago, Castillon taught history and government at Downtown College Prep in San Jose. In 2014 she moved to the Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, where she is the founding academic dean and Mexican-American history teacher. Both schools serve a student population that is more than 90 percent low-income and Latino—students that the loan forgiveness programs incentivized Irene to teach. Castillon is also pursuing an administrative credential at San Jose State University.

Castillon’s passion for teaching has encouraged her first-generation students to believe that higher education, even teaching in their own community one day, is within their reach. One of her students—a DREAMer on a full-ride scholarship at Loyola Marymount University—wrote her this note: “I thank you for … believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself and making me fall in love with history and teaching. Can I be like you when I grow up? I want to be someone’s Ms. Castillon one day!”

The above story is part of a policy brief written by Anne Podolsky and Tara Kini for the Learning Policy Institute, which was established by Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education, emeritus, at Stanford Graduate School of Education. Podolsky is a research and policy analyst at the think tank; Kini is a senior policy advisor.