Language of love: Hillsborough Elementary teacher advocates for her ESL students and families

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Shannon is one of three winners in Teach the Love Contest 

Meet Cassandra Shannon. She is from Hillsborough Elementary School and rose to the top of hundreds of contestants in the Teach the Love Contest with Southwest Rapid Rewards™ Credit Cards from Chase.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? How long have you been an educator and how long have you been at Hillsborough Elementary?

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I have been an educator for 17 years. I have been a kindergarten – fourth grade ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Hillsborough Elementary School for 15 of those years. I have always known I wanted to become a teacher and help others.

My mother is a Greek Cypriot immigrant from Cyprus, so I understand the struggles of people whose first language is not English.

As an ESL teacher I work closely with students who speak very little English. Often, I am
also a translator, advocate, and liaison for the families that I work with.

Can you tell me more about the collaboration with the school nurse to obtain glasses for underprivileged students? How did that develop?

Over the years I have had many students that have needed glasses. Unfortunately, they often don’t have the means of getting them. I always turn to the school nurse to find the
most up to date information on how to obtain free glasses for them. I rely on the nurse
because programs change, however, the need does not.

I then take families through the process to obtain the glasses that they need. This help ranges from translating the information to providing directions, or even calling the doctor’s office to help with scheduling and preparing for the visit.

Additionally, I assist my underprivileged students by organizing donations for school supplies and winter clothing.

What are some of the challenges and highlights you have had as an ESL teacher?

It is very difficult for many of the families that I work with. Some are from war-torn countries, others have left under other unimaginable circumstances, and others have simply come here for a better life. They are now in our country where they are not familiar with the language or customs, some families don’t own a vehicle and often they are unable to help with projects and homework because of the language barrier.

It is the small victories that really make my day. When a parent receives my translated note, and the student returns a special project, or a permission slip. That in itself is a
huge win.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember,
involve me and I learn.”

Many ESL students lack experiences, so I try to provide as many as I can at school. We carve pumpkins, we go on virtual field trips, and sometimes even play with snow because for many it is their first time seeing it. We watch caterpillars grow into butterflies, and more.

Learning English is not easy. My students are often very quiet in their regular classrooms. However, once they get to my classroom they become a different version of themselves. They become confident, and brave enough to take chances.

I hope that they can carry that bravery with them and above all, I hope my kids leave my classroom knowing how much they are loved.

Are you able to provide a comment about being nominated for this award?

When I first read the email to notify me that I had won, I thought it was too good to be true. I couldn’t believe it. I read it to my co-ESL teacher, Betty Borto, who happened to be the one to nominate me. She knew it was the real deal and started jumping up and
down and screaming. Once I realized it was the real deal, I joined her.

It is truly an honor, and I am so grateful to have been nominated. It makes me proud knowing I am able to make an impact on my students’ lives in our community while getting to pursue my passion for teaching every day.

I am also grateful Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase launched the Teach the Love Contest as a special way to reward hard-working teachers.

Maui will be a great place to take my “Edu-Vacation” with Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase as I can take my students on a virtual trip to the island.

Coincidentally my husband and I will be celebrating our 10-year anniversary while we are there.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

I am often reminded that the greatest resource we have in education is each other. I
know I would not be able to do what I do, without the help of my amazing colleagues.

This includes all the teachers, CST (child study teams), office, lunch, and custodial staff. Every single person contributes to the school experience of our students. I am particularly grateful for my ESL colleague, Betty Borto. Thanks to Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, Betty and a guest will also join us on the “Edu-Vacation” in Maui.

I am also grateful to my husband for his patience and understanding. I often receive texts and calls from Spanish speaking parents for help — often times it is 6 a.m. to report an absence, because they don’t know how to report it online or don’t know enough English to call the school. Other times, it’s after school because there is an issue with the bus. Recently, a mother was messaging me through the evening, as she prepared for her son’s first day of school after arriving from Puerto Rico.

My students are the main reason I love my job, especially seeing their smiling faces every day. I love it when they can apply what they’ve learned, and I also love learning from them. As a teacher of English Language Learners, they are constantly teaching me about their languages and cultures.

I’m excited to share what I learn about the island with my students and as a teacher I
have no doubt that I will be able to take them on a great virtual field trip and bring back
a ton of exciting information to share with them.

Teach the Love Contest

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase launched the Teach the Love Contest as a special way to reward hard-working teachers through exciting trips that could help inspire their lesson plans.

Three grand prize winners were selected to receiving a five-day, four night trip for themselves and a guest to visit one of the five amazing U.S. cities below:

Kahului (Maui), Hawaii for marine biology fans; Chicago, Ill. for fine arts and architecture lovers; Washington D.C., for American history buffs; Palm Springs, Calif. for geology fanatics and Nashville, Tenn. for music connoisseurs.

Seven runners-up were also chosen to each receive 30,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards bonus points to use towards their own future Edu-Vacations.

“Teachers play an influential role in so many lives and now is an important time to celebrate their hard work,” shared Matthew Schlitz, general manager of Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards from Chase. “Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards reward our customers by providing exclusive benefits that make traveling easier and more enjoyable. We’re excited to pull this sentiment through to the Teach the Love Contest by honoring hard-working teachers with trips to expand their knowledge and inspire their craft.”

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