Castaic Kids: Seven teachers returned to teach at the same school district they attended

Castaic Union School District employees, back row from left, Bryahna Alvarez, Miquela Moreno, Samantha Maxey, April Riley and Mallory Jones. Seated, left, Brian Malette and April Mailander pose with vintage Castaic year books at the Castaic Union School District Board Room on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

If you ask them if they went to Castaic Union School District schools, they unanimously nod their heads. If you ask them if their parents still live in Castaic, they all nod their heads. If you ask them if their favorite teachers are still at the school they now teach at, some say, “Yes, and now they’re my workplace mentor.”

Within the Castaic Union School District, there is a group of teachers and district staff who can say they’ve been both students of the district, and now employees of the district.

Earlier this week, seven of them shared their experiences about returning to the very same classrooms they graduated from, working in the same halls they roamed as students about a decade or so ago.

Some of them said they might have been the quiet kid or “teacher’s pet” in the classroom, and they all said something to the effect that their tight-knit community had beckoned them home to build upon what they had already grown up in.

Castaic Union School District employees, back row from left, Bryahna Alvarez, Miquela Moreno and Samantha Maxey, examine vintage Castaic year books at the Castaic Union School District Board Room on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“My teachers always seemed happy here, always seemed like they loved what they’re doing,” said Bryahana Alvarez, a Castaic Middle School alumna and now seventh-grade English teacher and ASB director. “So, I knew if I came back I knew I would also love it, and I have such a close connection to the community …  so I wanted to pay it forward to my community.”

While some said they knew they wanted to return to become educators their whole lives, others said they had not planned on returning. But once they did, they said it was a choice they didn’t regret making.

“I hadn’t anticipated coming back because I didn’t know I had wanted to be (a) teacher for a long time,” said Miquela Moreno, a Castaic Middle School alumna who now teaches seventh- and eighth-grade culinary arts, science and horticulture. “But when I looked back at middle school, I remembered why I had fallen in love with learning.”

But, when looking back on their time in CUSD, they all recalled memories of their teachers, how the community of Castaic would rally behind their schools, as well as the memories they shared with one another.

“I actually tell my students to get off their phones because (Bryahana and I) would ride around used to sell lemonade and use the money to buy pizza and throw pizza parties,” said Samantha Maxey, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Castaic Middle School who graduated from CMS in 2009.

Brian Malette, Castaic Middle School class of 2001 and now a TK and kindergarten teacher at Live Oak Elementary, said that when he attended elementary school in the district, Lombardi Ranch used to bring pumpkins to his school and allow him and his classmates to play in the impromptu patch. With a slight change to the original idea, he brought that idea back when he became a teacher, thinking his students would enjoy it as much as he did.

“We had decided to go and do a pumpkin patch field trip, and watching all the kids get all jacked up for the pumpkins brought me back to that,” Malette said.

Looking back on it, April Mailander said that, while attending elementary school and middle school in CUSD, she enjoyed math class. And she hoped, by returning to teach her favorite subject at Castaic Middle School, she could show the next generation of seventh-graders what is fascinating about the subject.

“It’s hard to get kids getting really into math, and involved in math and not have them say, ‘I’m never going to make this relevant,’” said April Mailander. “But I hope to make it relevant to them in this day and age and hope they do use it and realize that math is all around us.”

Although not a teacher working inside a classroom directly, Mallory Jones said her commitment to the education of kids is no different than the others who came back to the CUSD, and she hopes that her work as a secretary in the student support services department is a benefit to something that had a major impact on her life.

“I wanted to work at the Castaic Union School District because it’s such a huge part of the formation of who I became,” said Jones. “I wanted to be a part of the inner workings of what makes this district great — the wonderful, gifted students who attend our schools.”

Castaic Union School District employees Mallory Jones left, and April Riley examine vintage Castaic year books at the Castaic Union School District Board Room on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

And for Northlake Elementary fourth-grade teacher April Riley, the important thing, and what many of the other teachers expressed as well, is that, above all, she wants to be a part of the district she came from in order to make sure the fun she had in school continues on for future generations in her community.

“I loved school when I was a kid … I looked forward to going to school. I wasn’t the type of kid who wanted to stay home and I remember school being a very fun place to be,” said Riley. “So, that’s what I really try to bring into my classroom: for students to develop a love for learning and being there … I want them to know that if there’s something going on they can come in and talk to me.”

“They’re obviously tremendous role models and bring back to the kids to show they’ve navigated the system and can relate (to the kids’) issues,” said CUSD Superintendent Steve Doyle. “But I think it speaks volumes that we’re giving back to our community by bringing people back … bring back to give back.”

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