Children First: Fresno County teacher found passion for teaching at young age

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Students in Crystal Aguilar's class at Coalinga High School happily file into their classroom and immediately get to work.

Aguilar's class is made up of 9th through 12th graders, each at a different developmental stage.

"We are required to expose them to grade-level material," she said. "I just have to modify them. We use common-core connectors which really outlines what I need to bring to the plate as far as curriculum is involved."

After 18 years as a special education teacher, Aguilar has developed an ever-evolving system to help her students learn and grow.

"I really try that freshman year to get to know what my students like so that it's a person-centered plan, which means it revolves around what that student wants from the get-go," she said.

Her room is covered in colorful boards, some with daily reminders or classroom goals. Another is with student's individualized schedules and several recognizing their achievements.

That positive reinforcement is now being extended virtually.

With her "glass-half-full" attitude, Miss Aguilar says the actually pandemic brought her and her students closer together and distance-learning made them all more tech-savvy.

She even started a YouTube page to keep students engaged and entertained at home.

But Aguilar thrives on challenges, like the time one of her students was poking his eyes and his worried parents couldn't figure out why.

"I was even pushing my own eyes," she said. "If you do that, you see a rainbow and the student was blind and they were seeing color, so we made adaptive glasses that would pressure on the eyelids so he would see those colors without poking his eye."

That desire to help and understand those with developmental challenges started at only 8 years old, when she met a group of special ed students in the playground.

"They were always being teased, so I found myself being an advocate from a young age," she said.

Those kids, and her own daughter with autism, became the inspiration for her life's work.

"I really want her to thrive, so I bring that into my classroom as well," Aguilar said.

Aguilar makes sure her students get to experience what others their age are doing.

Every year, she organizes a prom for them and they put on talent shows for the community.

"We had the time of our lives," she said.

Helping them transition to life after high school is also part of her job and she puts in many extra hours to make that happen.

"I was in Huron in my office working late one night, and I came out about 6:30 and the city bus pulled up and she hopped off the city bus with her students because she was teaching them how to ride home in case something ever happened," says Colinga-Huron Unified Superintendent Lori Villanueva.

What Aguilar hopes *will happen* is that her students feel accepted and valued, both in school where they often spend the afternoon helping clean the campus and in their communities, where she has helped many of them find jobs.

"She puts her heart and soul into what she does," Villanueva said. "Every action she takes to make her classroom a great place for kids."
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