Educator Spotlight: Meet Andrew Arevalo
Elementary educator chooses empathy to share ideas, grow his community
This story is part of a series that celebrates Teacher Appreciation Month. Each day in May, we will introduce to you an outstanding educator within the Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
Boy, can a smile tell a story.
Andrew Arevalo is a young elementary teacher in southern California. Ambitious like many, resilient and patient, too. But when faced with skepticism, reluctance or his own insecurity – like a new teacher might – Andrew doesn’t cower or frustrate or panic. He flashes a bright, vivacious smile instead.
Resiliency doesn’t come easy for anyone. Even when we think we know the answers or we think we see the way, we must seek a new courage within us to prevail. And, for Andrew, all of that is in his smile – bravery, hope, faith and might – a story that resonates far beyond the sunny fields of El Centro.
Andrew is such a big dreamer.
“I thought I could enact change by myself, but I realize now that it’s not me against them,” Andrew says. “I love my kids, I love my community, and we are all on the same team, working together now on a level I could’ve only dreamed of. It’s been incredible.”
Home Sweet Home
Andrew has spent his whole life in the Imperial Valley, a rural boarder community east of San Diego. It’s a quiet, warm and peaceful place, where family is close and neighbors are family, too. The sky is vast, open fields surround the school, and the crop dusters time their spray schedule around recess so as not to disturb the kids.
Here, everyone looks out for everyone, and they all care very much. When Andrew’s grandmother died last month, each of his students drove by his house with signs and smiles and big open arms hanging out the car door windows to let him know they were thinking of him.
This work and this idyllic life in the valley – it’s more than home to Andrew. It’s everything.
“My vision has always been to stay here and affect change in my own county,” says Andrew, who teaches fourth grade at McCabe Union Elementary School. “I don’t ever want to leave, and, the thing is, what we are doing here is awesome. We’re a hub of innovation because we’re smaller – we have to innovate! – and I want so badly to share all that we’re doing to lead change. This is absolutely my dream job.”
Family Ties During Tough Times
Just like Andrew, his family works in education, too. His fiancé teaches fifth grade, his big brother is a principal, his sister-in-law teaches just one door down the hall from him, and his father, Greg, has been teaching for over 40 years.
“A lot of my inspiration to be in the classroom obviously came from my father,” Andrew says. “It’s not that he pushed my brother and me into teaching. I just saw the love my father has always had for his profession and wanted to follow those footsteps.”
Today, more than ever, he looks to his dad. When Andrew was in school, he was the perfect student – the campus tutor, the one who gave the speeches and the one who received all the awards. All of it came naturally. With ideas in his pockets and a confidence to keep him, Andrew was ravenous to begin his career.
“But that first year was literally the toughest year I have ever experienced,” Andrew recalls. “It had nothing to do with the students or the pedagogy in my classroom. It was because I worked better independently. I had all these ideas, yet I didn’t know how to share them with my colleagues. There was a huge dichotomy between theory and what I had learned in school to the actual practice of building rapport.”
Amid the feelings of isolation, Andrew’s relationship with his dad provided resolution.
“I had this epiphany that my approach was too strong,” Andrew admits. “I was this new educator who had so much raw energy, but I was too reclusive with my ideas. If I wanted to lead change and share ideas with my colleagues, I needed to do so with empathy – which is exactly how I share a relationship with my father.”
As an experienced educator, Andrew knew his dad sometimes felt left behind. While sprightly young educators like Andrew were coming in with ideas and tech and innovation, Greg would scramble. Instead of pushing his dad to keep up, Andrew empathized to support him.
“My dad has faced a lot of obstacles as we all transition to distance learning, but he’s taken off with it and is now the one challenging me with questions and ways to help him out,” Andrew says. “He is so inspiring to me! But it’s because I want to support him. I want to put myself in his shoes and understand his frustrations, and that is exactly how I should be supporting my colleagues, too.”
Teacher of the Year
With the switch of perspective – a selfless look in the mirror, making honest choices, and a mighty promise to rise above the fear – everything in Andrew’s life changed. He presented those once closed-off ideas at local then national conferences, introduced a new design thinking course to his school, began a district-wide eSports program and, in 2019, received the CUE Emerging Teacher of the Year Award.
“It was a huge, huge thing for our little, little community,” says Andrew of CUE visiting his school. “I laugh at this, but actual press from our local newspapers came to cover it! I am still so truly humbled and have since then been able to really affect change.”
Over the past year alone, he’s presented in Texas and Miami and last summer met idol Sir Ken Robinson during a pitch fest at the University of San Diego. Last fall, he convened in New York City with 30 other teachers from around the world to solve funding problems in education.
“We don’t have skyscrapers here,” says Andrew of his home. “We don’t have large businesses or corporations. You don’t understand — people don’t leave Imperial Valley! We only have fields, it’s all I’ve known my whole life, and yet I sat in that room with the brightest minds in education with a view of the Statue of Liberty behind me.
“I’m just this kid from the valley! I don’t know what I’ve done to get here, but I do know I’m doing it for my students, for my community, and for my family. I just want to do what’s best for them.”
He needn’t even say it. You can see that in his smile.