Amy Saldivar-Castaneda’s passion for teaching started young.
When she was 10 years old, Saldivar-Castaneda said other students in her fifth-grade class couldn’t wait to get out of class to go to lunch and recess. She, however, would stay behind to help assist a teacher’s kindergarten class.
Saldivar-Castaneda remembers being paired with a student who was unwilling to do his work, interact with anyone or even speak.
“After she paired me up with him, my teacher saw him make so much progress,” Saldivar-Castaneda said. “It makes my heart full that I was able to make a difference in a child’s life.”
Ten years later, Saldivar-Castaneda still is in the front of the classroom, except this time she’s assisting a fifth-grade class at Gompers Junior High School in Joliet through the Golden Apple Scholars’ Summer Institute program.
Saldivar-Castaneda, of Cary, is one of six students from the McHenry County Area inducted into the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois Program. Emily Halik of Crystal Lake, Katryna Weingart and John Anderlik of McHenry, and Luis Flores and Maria Mercado Juarez of Harvard also were among the 299 scholars welcomed into the program’s Class of 2018.
The program is administered through the Golden Apple, a nonprofit organization aimed at training and supporting Illinois students and teachers, specifically those from low-income or high-need school districts.
The program is designed to identify motivated future educators and prepare them for the most “challenging school environments,” according to a news release from Golden Apple. As part of their preparations, scholars receive mentorship from teachers by working in high-need schools.
Anderlik hopes to one day be teaching language arts and English to non-English speakers at a middle school where he can increase the amount of attention low-income districts receive from the state.
“I want to do something that will make a difference,” Anderlik said. “Privileged schools tend to get more attention while the lower-income schools are shoved to the side. I want to give them the attention they need to succeed.”
Weingart, who graduated from McHenry East High School with Anderlik, found her inspiration to work as a teacher in a high-need school from her fellow classmates. Thirty-one percent of students at McHenry East High School were low-income in 2017, according to data from Illinois Report Card.
“I learned a lot from those students,” Weingart said. “I don’t want to just be there for the students as an educator, but also be there as a human being.”
Halik hopes to accomplish a similar goal as an elementary school English teacher. What started out as a childhood game of playing teacher has turned into a career path for her.
The students will be attending the following schools: Halik, Anderlik and Saldivar-Castaneda, Illinois State University; Weingart, Northern Illinois University; Flores, Vandercook College of Music; and Mercado Juarez, Rockford University.