EVERETT — When Everett teachers and students return to classrooms Wednesday, some might ponder the advice they heard last week at an all-district staff assembly.
Teachers can be “dream makers or gatekeepers” to their students, said Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, where she became the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the Combat Support Field.
Kickbusch, 54, a motivational speaker who grew up in poverty in a Texas border town, encountered both kinds of adults at her high school.
As one of 10 children of Mexican immigrant parents, she wore thrift-store clothes and had cardboard over the holes in bottoms of her tattered shoes. Her father was a laborer; her mother, who suffered from depression, kept up the house.
Kickbusch remembered the day in high school when students interested in attending college could go talk with university recruiters.
A counselor spotted her looking for information about different colleges and singled her out. He embarassed her by becoming agitated and wondering aloud what was she doing there.
The counselor brought it to the attention of a teacher. Both adults, who were supposed to be encouraging students, started laughing at her.
The teacher and the counselor were both Hispanic. It was not the color of her skin, but her social class that caused them to doubt her, she said.
“I gave up that day,” Kickbusch said.
Fortunately, there was another teacher who encouraged her, making her believe she could succeed in college and in life.
“Mr. Cooper helped me come out of poverty,” she said. “He gave me the gift of never losing my identity. He told me that I came from good people. They were my role models and that I should never lose my heritage.”
She ended up earning a master’s degree in cybernetics at San Jose State University.
Lillian Ortiz-Self, a counselor at Everett High School, found Kickbusch’s address to students and teachers last Thursday particularly motivating. She brought officers from the school’s Latino Image Club with her.
“It is very inspiring,” she said. “I wanted them to hear her story.”
She said the words reinforced her efforts to instill pride in students.
“My philosophy is to limit a child is a cardinal sin,” she said.
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail email@example.com.