California Educator

December/January 2019

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Erin Castillo stands by the chart she created; below, suggestions to help students cope with different situations. Teacher Trending Erin Castillo's check-in chart is a safety net for students By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin Photos by Kim Sanford T H E Y M I G H T N O T say anything, but Erin Castillo can tell when a student is having a bad day. And she wants to help, with- out pressuring them. So last year she put a chart on the wall, encouraging students to write their name on a Post-it and stick it on the category that best sums up how they are feeling that day. Choices range from "I'm great" to "I'm having a hard time and wouldn't mind a check-in" to "I'm in a really dark place." Castillo teaches English to students with mild to moderate disabilities at John F. Kennedy High School in Fremont. She also teaches a peer counseling class and has a degree in psychology, so incorpo- rating mental health into the school day comes naturally. The chart is a way to check in with stud ents w ho are hav in g dif f iculti e s and refer those in crisis to counselors and mental health professionals. Stu- dents are asked to trust one another and not to invade each oth er 's privacy. And surpri singly, they comply. The chart is located by the front door before an entryway, and it's difficult for students to see who's posting while sitting at their desks. "I always worried that perhaps I was missing the signs that students were struggling. So, putting up a chart seemed the best option to find out." To her, it was a small gesture to show students that she cares, and a way to create a safe space for them. She was shocked when it went viral in a big way. Aft er puttin g up th e char t, sh e p o st ed it on h er In st a- gram p a ge. S o on sh e was trendin g, goin g from 10,000 to 33,000 followers. "I had no idea it had gone viral," says C a s t i l l o , a m e m b e r o f t h e Fre m o n t Unified District Teachers Association. "When the TV show Insider reached out to me with an interview request on April Fool's Day, I thought it was a joke and that I was being punked." It was no joke. Since then, she has also been featured on Good Morning America and CBS News, which sent a camera crew to the school and filmed an entire day. Facebook flew her out to speak at its Safety Summit about how to do online check-ins with groups. She has inspired teachers around the world — educators as far away as New Zealand and South Africa have modeled charts on the one she created. While the accolades have been exciting, the biggest reward is helping her students, who struggle with self-esteem and have been the target of bullying. "It has worked really well," she shares. "It's made it so much "It's made it so much easier for kids to talk to me. For students, it can be daunting to share emotions and ask someone for help. But now it's not so scary." —Erin Castillo, Fremont Unified District Teachers Association 14 Spotlight

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