A self-described “science nerd” who collects fossils to share with her students, Woodgate Intermediate School fifth grade science teacher Morgan Castillo won a statewide educator award from H-E-B that comes with $10,000 for her and $10,000 for the school.
The 19th annual H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards handed out more than $430,000 in cash awards and grants to eight educators, two school districts, an early childhood agency and a public school board, according to a press release.
Castillo won in the Leadership category for elementary teachers, which honors teachers with 10 to 20 years of experience in the classroom. A Corpus Christi teacher won in the same category for secondary teachers. Both received a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their schools.
The winners received special recognition during a Facebook Live awards event from celebrities including Matthew McConaughey, Eva Longoria, Matt Bonner and Kendra Scott. Castillo also won a pair of Kendra Scott diamond earrings.
H-E-B identified finalists who had been nominated for the award earlier this year, visiting Woodgate in late February and awarding Castillo $1,000 as a finalist. Officials also interviewed Castillo, Principal Wes Kanawyer, Superintendent George Kazanas and some of Castillo’s students for the statewide award, Kanawyer said.
“It truly could not have gone to a more energetic, passionate, student-centered individual,” he said. “She would do the same job, with or without recognition. She loves kids. She is passionate about creating lifelong learners. She is a phenomenal leader and a great teacher, and we’re just so proud and humbled to have her at Woodgate.”
Castillo continuously goes “above and beyond” for her students, creating hands-on learning experiences, while also finding time to lead the school’s science team and equip her fellow teachers with the tools they need to educate their students, Kanawyer said.
While this is the first statewide award Castillo has received, she won the Region 12 Education Service Center’s Secondary Teacher of the Year award in August. Castillo has taught for 16 years, eight of those in Midway ISD teaching various grades and Spanish before switching to science.
Castillo said the high quality education she received growing up in the Dallas area planted the seeds for her own teaching style and passion. Her middle school science teacher brought in famed primate scientist Jane Goodall to speak and got the class involved with a project by Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who found the Titanic. Those memorable experiences cemented her love of learning.
“I couldn’t imagine having a desk job where I’m just sitting there, doing the same thing every day,” she said. “My main motivation is I love kids so much. I love being able to serve kids and love on kids.”
Like the teachers who shaped her, Castillo likes to create memorable learning experiences for her students. She collects fossils and brings them into the classroom so students can touch and see them. She also brings in scientists and doctoral candidates to present their research to the class because many students have not been exposed to much science or are scared of it, she said.
“There is so much that I want them to know about our amazing world and really make them lifelong learners,” she said. “I try to be very intentional about making sure that the kids can see themselves as a scientist, if that’s something they want to do. I’m really passionate about it. I want them to also feel comfortable sharing their passions with me.”
Castillo exposes her students to even more science through a collaboration with Baylor University. All fifth grade science teachers participate in student-led experiments in which students choose an organism to study and experiments they want to conduct, and the results are shared with Baylor. This year, all four classes wanted to examine the crayfish, Castillo said.
Neither Castillo nor Kanawyer know how Woodgate will use the $10,000 grant yet, but Castillo wants to do something that will have a lasting impact on the campus, as it will be converted into an elementary school in the next few years as part of a district grade realignment. She already has some ideas.
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