Letting go is never easy.
San Pedro Elementary Principal Terry Castaneda knows that lesson all too well, as she prepared to say goodbye this week to 42 years of education in Robstown ISD.
Whether in 1970, starting her career in the book room at San Pedro Elementary, teaching young migrant children in a room with no windows and no air conditioning, or 2012, where Castaneda watched another group of young students being knighted, students who have chosen to carry the torch of responsibility as models for others. Castaneda's career has been spent instilling virtues in others.
Castaneda said when she first graduated from college, her only intention was to work in Robstown, the place where she was born and raised.
“I called the superintendent's office everyday. It took a lot of persistence. A migrant teacher position opened at San Pedro Elementary, working with children in K through sixth grade,” Castaneda said. It was Jan. 27, 1970. Castaneda said that despite her degree in secondary education, she felt more comfortable working with younger students. She felt she could do more with students at that level, get to them earlier working on reading skills.
From there, Castaneda went to fourth grade, then went back to school for her certification as a reading teacher, which lead to a long run as a Title I reading teacher. In 1988, a position for an instructional facilitator, much like an assistant principal, opened up at Lotspeich Elementary, and Castaneda was appointed there. By 1995, she was brought back to San Pedro Elementary to serve as principal, a position she's held for 17 years.
Castaneda spoke about the teachers she had the privilege of working with and those who are now part of her staff. She said she has been blessed to have the teachers and staff at San Pedro Elementary. The campus has seen a renaissance over the years, from a lower performing campus, to a campus that has been rated both recognized and exemplary. Castaneda did not claim responsibility for that transition. She said it was all because of the teachers, the staff, and the students.
Every day, students on campus recite a set of virtues every knight should follow:
Courage - I stand up for what is right!
Perseverance - Never, never, give up!
Respect - Do unto others, as you would have done unto you.
Responsibility - Exceed the expectations!
Courteousness - Please and Thank you!
Trustworthiness - Doing what is right isn't always easy.
The students believe in the knightly virtues, Castaneda said. They are at the heart of what takes place in San Pedro Elementary.
“They have pride in their neighborhood, and they're supportive of the school,” Castaneda said of the students and parents of San Pedro Elementary. “We have a knighting ceremony at the end of the school year. The kids take a lot of pride in becoming a knight. They start in second grade, and they have to earn their spot for the next year. It's a big deal if you're a grand knight, it's a big accomplishment.”
Students who come to the office, especially those who are knights on campus, are called to task for acting in opposition to the virtues.
“What were you thinking, you are a knight,” Castaneda says to the students who misbehave. “You're supposed to be an example to the other students.”
“I love education. My whole life has been the kids, It's finally starting to sink in that I'll no longer be working with children,” Castaneda said, holding back tears. “It's been my whole life.”
Castaneda said she is leaving, but leaving with the knowledge that she has made a difference in the lives of several students over the years. She said the fact that students who attended San Pedro themselves are bringing their kids back to the same campus years later is proof that they believe in the campus and in what they are trying to achieve.
“It's going to be very hard, because 42 years is a long time. But these kids will always be in my heart, and I will take them with me,” Castaneda said. “I have been so blessed to have worked in this community, with students in this area, and the staff I have been blessed with, because they are the ones who make the school and bring honor to the school.”