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Our Head Start Teacher, Cristina inspiring students through virtual learning

When it comes to virtual education, Cristina Castanon knows her students are inspired to learn through song and creativity.

Cristina has been teaching for nine years and began working with CCRC’s Head Start in 2017. She received her Associates Degree in child development and liberal arts from L.A. Valley College and a B.A. in liberal arts from California State University Northridge.

She was born in Mexico but has lived in Los Angeles most of her life. Cristina is bilingual and uses her fluency in Spanish to help further connect with families who speak English as a second language.

When the pandemic forced the Head Start program and other schooling online, Cristina made the transition fun for her students by structuring her lesson plan around movement, engagement, and consistency.

Though the lessons are mostly conducted through individualized Zoom meetings, Cristina brings the group together virtually on Thursdays for a fun lesson that allows her students to interact.

“We have share time, where they tell the class about a toy or something that interests them,” Cristina said. “Then we play Simon Says, dance to a song, and sing a goodbye song together.”

Currently, Cristina is working with her students on Crazy Hat Day. Her class is making hats by recycling random materials and they will present their creation to the full class during their group Zoom meeting.

Her teaching style is heavily focused on projects and parent inclusion.

“Last year, we did a lot of projects,” Cristina said. “I asked the 36 parents to participate in a reading event, as well as an open art class with parents and their children. Looping in parents is important because it prepares them for continuing their child’s learning at home even after class has ended.”

Cristina teaches children ages 3-5 and believes self-expression through music and movement is key to engaging her students. Her class size is small, which allows Cristina to focus on each student individually.

Despite the shift to virtual learning, Cristina energizes her students every morning on Zoom by starting the lesson with a morning song, then a listening song from Second Step, a program rooted in social-emotional learning. Next, she uses a puppet to ask her students to share their feelings and encourages them to ask their parents how they feel that day. This exercise helps children develop their social and emotional skills.

Cristina’s lesson plan usually includes body movements like a simple exercise of jumping or stretching, songs that assist in learning, story time, and a language activity that focuses on improving the student’s cognitive skills.

“I love seeing their expressions when they come to school, in person or on Zoom,” Cristina said. “The main goal is to have kids come to class with excitement.”

CCRC Head Start and Early Head Start is now enrolling children ages 0-5. Click here to learn more.

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