Featuring Locally Grown Public Schools: Lighthouse’s homegrown teacher
“Which intelligence fits you best?”
It’s a little after 8:30 am on a fall morning and class is underway in Eulises Esquivel’s 4th grade class at Lighthouse Community Charter Public School, a locally grown Oakland public school located in East Oakland.
Esquivel is in his first year of teaching at Lighthouse. Like his students, he knows what it’s like to be a kid growing up in Oakland, attending Oakland public schools. In fact, he was a student at Lighthouse himself and part of the first graduating class in 2009.
The 26 or so 4th graders are seated on a rug in the front of the class, looking at a projector screen on a whiteboard. A student reads aloud an example response to the question, the person had written about how musical intelligence fit them best. Esquivel asks the students why this is or is not a well-written response. Students, not the teacher, call on other students to read sections. Esquivel asks questions to help draw out the students’ responses, and does more listening than speaking.
Esquivel says that in his classroom, he wants students to have a say in their learning and choice in how they interact with what they’re studying. He frequently checks in with each student to make sure they’re understanding the lessons. “It’s more directed towards, ‘how can we come up with this answer together,’” Esquivel said of his approach to teaching. “I don’t want the students just to repeat a process, I really want them to get a good handle on it, I want them to know it.”
Esquivel decided to become a teacher when he was a student at Lighthouse. “Back then, I came to realize that a teacher really has the power to enact change and empower kids,” Esquivel said.
Esquivel said that when he started high school he was coasting by, not seeing the point of school and not trying very hard. He didn’t get good grades. But then he encountered teachers at Lighthouse he said “really cared about me and were invested in my success” and had the ability to motivate him. And whenever he was going through tough times, he said there was always a teacher there for him.
When Esquivel was a junior, his mother was deported. During an incredibly challenging time, when he was staying at relatives’ houses and unsure if his family would be able to stay together, he remembers Lighthouse as “a safe haven.” There were teachers and administrators to talk to and provide resources. He could stay late at school. He especially remembers the support from his teacher, Dawn Fregosa. “She was super open and always had time to listen to my concerns or thoughts,” Esquivel said. “It felt really good to always have someone to talk to.”
Fregosa was an inspiration for Esquivel deciding to become a teacher, he said. “She allowed me to see there are adults that can make this change in students, to help them want to try to do their best,” Esquivel said. “She planted this seed in my mind like, ‘maybe I can be this kind of adult. Someone who can foster a love of learning and be so supportive.’”
Esquivel graduated from Lighthouse in 2009 and then attended Cal State East Bay after transferring from a community college. After graduating from college, he returned to Lighthouse as a volunteer, working with a resource specialist. He then worked at the school for three years as an IT specialist before joining the school’s teacher residency program.
Esquivel spent two years learning under two veteran teachers, first Virginia McManus and then Yvonne Moultrie. He said that aside from teaching him the basics on what he had to do, like how to lesson plan, they also showed him what kind of impact a great teacher can have. “If you do a really amazing job with the students and the parents, these are the kind of outcomes you can have,” he said. “They helped me see that, as an educator, you always have a growth mindset and want to get better at your craft. That really stuck with me.”
Now that he has his own class, Esquivel said he’s been excited to create his own culture together with students. He appreciates the space he has to try new things, while also receiving lots of support from his master teacher colleagues. He’s happy to have the opportunity to teach at the school where he was inspired to pursue a career in education. More than anything, he’s looking to make an impact. “I’m here to support these young people and be there for them and provide a quality education so they can be changemakers in their community as well,” he said.
Lighthouse is growing more teachers like Eulises Esquivel through a teacher residency partnership with Alder Graduate School of Education and Envision Education. Read more about it here.