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Raquell Castillo and Her Impact as a School Social Worker

Cover graphic for featured profile on Raquell Castillo, Mountain View High School Social Worker
Raquell Castillo with a large smile, green hair, and wearing a black blazer

Although Raquell Castillo graduated from Loveland High School in 2013, she still remembers vividly how it felt to be different. As a self-described “decent student,” Raquell says she didn’t have any behavior or attendance issues, and therefore didn’t get a lot of attention in school.

“I fell through the cracks because I wasn’t on anybody’s radar,” she says, explaining that she is the oldest of five siblings she often helped care for while not having a big friend group of her own. “I didn’t have too much of the traditional high school experience. A lot of people had their person, a teacher, a counselor, a coach. I just didn’t really have that.”

It was feeling like she hadn’t fit in during high school that made Raquell rethink her original plan to go into law school after getting her bachelor’s degree, and to instead go to graduate school to be a social worker.

“Many lawyers told me they didn’t think I was fit for the field of law. I was really into advocacy and being an agent of change,” Raquell says. “Change is not really made how you think it is made in politics. If you really want to make social change, that’s boots-on-the-ground level.”

Raquell Castillo Transitions to Social Work

Raquell Castillo stands at the back of the classroom with a group of smiling students working at their desks

Raquell soon realized that as a social worker, she could be more involved with students’ home lives and help them with access to resources in the community. Now in her second year as a full-time social worker at Mountain View, Raquell was recently honored by Thompson Education Foundation as a TSD Staff Member of the Year. As the MVHS social worker, Raquell considers every student in the school to be part of her caseload.

“School is hard enough, and being a teenager is hard enough,” she says. “Being that person who is really consistent is really important to me. Not everybody has that at home. I try to be here every day so that things are predictable for them, and there are no surprises.”

Raquell provides students with a variety of outlets, including a snack when they are hungry, a chat when they are needing someone to talk to, access to the clothing closet when they need clothes, or being a partner to go for a walk with them if they need a break. She also works closely with families who are considered “highly mobile,” helping those students work toward mental health and academic success in environments that aren’t always stable.

“If you’re staying in a hotel room or your car, getting school work done is not necessarily consistent,” says Raquell. “If your housing is not great or your family isn’t stable, it’s hard for school to be the thing you’re thinking about all day. I’m not a therapist, and I’m not here to dig deep into these kids’ trauma, but I am here to support them. When the kids understand that they need to take care of other things first, the academic piece falls into place.”

The Evolving Landscape of Student Well-being

Raquell Castillo wears red Special Olympics Colorado Track and Field shirt while standing with other smiling staff members

Raquell says she sees students today facing many challenges that previous generations haven’t had to contend with, including social media pressures. She says she is pleased with progress being made to destigmatize mental health issues, although there is much more work to be done.

“I think we are talking about it more,” she says. “The discussion is helping people be more comfortable with the way they experience life. Things like depression, autism, ADHD, these are not always issues that need to be solved. Sometimes they just need to be managed.”

To do that, Raquell says she works to provide students with a consistent adult they can turn to for things that many people don’t even think of, such as funding for college applications or securing a donated bicycle for kids to use for transportation. She also leads different groups for students who share similar challenges, such as goals groups, social skills groups, and relationship groups.

“I’m kind of a point of contact for the miscellaneous,” she says. “I try to fill in the missing gaps when everybody else has exhausted their efforts but there’s still things that are needed. Because there’s always more that’s needed. It’s like whack-a-mole.”

Raquell also works closely with Mountain View’s affective needs program, having spent a lot of her grad school work in the area of children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Her goal is to create a safe space for students from all different backgrounds and give them the support they need.

“My motto and my work is being that person that I was lacking when I was younger,” she says. “I want to represent all different people and show kids you can get through hard things.”