Camelot’s Excel Academy of Roseland Teacher of the Year: Juan Rodriguez – It’s All about Mutual Respect
Juan Rodriguez, Excel Academy of Roseland’s Teacher of the Year, has been with Camelot Education for five years and said he is grateful to have found his ideal place to work in education.
“I came here almost by accident,” he said. “Initially it was one of several schools on my list. I really wasn’t thinking about working in alternative education. But after my first year, I was convinced this was where I wanted to be. I love Excel Academy’s purpose and mission.”
Camelot’s Excel Academy of Roseland is an accelerated school for students 15 to 21 who have fallen behind academically. The program, part of Chicago Public Schools’ Option Schools network, offers an extended day, where students can earn up to five credits per semester and 10 credits per year. This allows students to graduate in 2.5 years or less.
Rodriguez, who teaches world history and civics, grew up in Chicago and attended University of Illinois Springfield where he majored in history and education. He credits his success with students to establishing a foundation of respect.
“It has to be mutual respect because my students will know right away if you’re not being genuine with them,” he said. “They know I respect them and that my purpose for being here is to help them succeed. They know what I expect of them in my classroom.”
Tyree Booker, Excel Academy of Roseland’s executive director, said Juan knows how to reach his students.
“He knows how to connect with them and how to make his lessons relatable to them,” Booker said. “We chose him as our Teacher of the Year because of his passion, his dedication, and also because he understands our students. He makes learning come off the page. He believes his students will succeed, and he makes them believe they can succeed, too. He’s a beacon of hope for them, and that’s something all of us at Camelot strive to be.”
Booker said an integral component to education at Excel Academy of Roseland, similar to all Camelot Education campuses, is the immersive social-emotional learning (SEL) environment. SEL is the process of developing the students’ self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.
Students who attend Excel Academy of Roseland have a slightly longer day than their counterparts at traditional high schools. Rodriguez said the hardest adjustment for him keeping students interested and engaged during their extended class periods.
“I learned that I had to break up the lessons into smaller activities. You have to do that; otherwise you’ll lose students’ attention and that defeats the whole purpose of what we’re doing for them. One of my students came in really rough during his first year. He was giving hints that he was going through something, but I refused to let that interfere with his education. I built a relationship with him, and gradually, he learned to trust me. It was remarkable to see him change. I think every one of our teachers could tell similar stories, and that’s the rewarding part of why we do what we do, and why we’re here. I’m grateful for being chosen Teacher of the Year, but I don’t think I’m the best I can be yet. That’s my goal for the year, to grow more – to be better than I am.”