Math Teacher Who Commutes Four Hours Every Day Gets Life-Changing Surprise from Students
Sometimes a little good can lead to a lot of great.
Los Angeles math teacher Julio Castro received the surprise of his life when his students at YULA High School orchestrated an elaborate scheme to present him with a heartwarming gift.
Castro, who lives in Santa Clarita California, uses both his scooter and a city bus for his four-hour daily commute to school. The dad of three wakes up at 4:30 am and often doesn’t get back home until 9:30 pm, after his young kids have already gone to sleep.
“It is roughly two hours [one way]. It depends … if I miss my bus, I wait another half hour or an hour,” he told local news reporters.
Castro travels seven miles from his apartment to the metro stop on a scooter before riding another hour and a half to Century City. From there, he travels another mile to YULA High School, a private school in Pico-Robertson.
Living in an affordable apartment in another town and commuting to a job in Los Angeles is common among many low to middle-income workers. At high-tuition private schools, the teachers often live more modestly than the students they serve.
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Castro said his work is “a pleasure” and that it is his family members that have to work incredibly hard.
“I have family members who aren’t documented and who have three jobs, get paid less than I do, and they don’t complain,” Castro said. “I’m very grateful to have an amazing partner and amazing kids. So, this commute is literally nothing.”
Despite his time-consuming trek each day, the teacher “still makes sure to devote all this time to students,” said Joshua Gerendash — who had noticed Castro looking at a buy and sell page for a car under $1,500.
“Mr. Castro skips his lunch break to help students and stays after school. He also helps students who aren’t in his classes. He’s really, really, really devoted to our futures.”
Castro began working at the YULA school in 2019 and teaches algebra, precalculus, statistics, and geometry.
Students describe Castro as patient, resourceful, and someone who works hard to ensure his students are successful. Many students say they used to struggle in math and appreciate Castro’s kindness and willingness to ensure they can learn at their own pace.
“He was really the first teacher who showed me, in this way, that he cared about me,” said Gerendash. “I guess I had a connection with him. I view him as more than just a teacher, I view him more as another person and I talk to him about non-school related stuff too. I look at him as a teacher and a friend.”
“I focus a lot on motivation,” Castro said. “Get them motivated to not need to ask for help. Because it’s not just knowing the answer, it’s about how you get to the answer. Math is a skill you learn with practice and being dedicated and if you give respect to it, it’ll be respectful to you. And don’t worry about the grade … it’ll show in time.”
What a Group of Students Did to Surprise Their Deserving Teacher
The teacher’s dedication made such an impact on his students that they got together and put together a fundraising campaign over several months to help raise funds to buy a car for Castro. The students were able to raise a whopping $30,000 to put towards buying a car along with one year of insurance and gasoline.
After deciding what type of vehicle they wanted to spend the funds on, the students planned an elaborate plan to present the new car.
On the second day of the new school year, Castro was told that the school was holding a faculty appreciation assembly. Little did he know that the event was a ruse set up to honor him.
The “assembly” began with video testimonials, confetti cannons, and a “tunnel” of Castro’s students with their arms out above their heads. And the finale? The extraordinary gift of a certified pre-owned Mazda 3 hatchback to ease the difficult commute of their beloved teacher.
Castro said he knew his students were aware of his lengthy commute but admitted he’d never imagined being the recipient of such a heartwarming and unexpected deed.
“I always told my students that when life doesn’t go your way, what do you do? Don’t cry about it. Don’t whine about it. Just be grateful for what you already have, and then move on,” he says. “And one day some good things will happen.”
The young teacher added that one should never do things in hopes of being rewarded. “Don’t do it because you’re waiting for a prize. Do it because it comes from your heart.”
Lost Time Cannot Be Found
Castro plans to put all his newfound time to good use.
“Now that I have a car, I get to drop off my kids every morning. And then coming here with time to spare, I can use it on my lesson plans,” he says. “Then on my way back, even if traffic is still bad, I’ll be able to make it for dinner.”
Born in Peru and raised in southeast Los Angeles County, Castro completed a degree in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology from UC Santa Cruz in 2015. He was the first in his family to graduate from college.
He was teaching math as an adjunct community college instructor but in search for a steady teaching role, he applied at YULA.
“I’m not Jewish,” he told the school. “I don’t know anything about Judaism. But I know math. If you give me a chance, hopefully, the students will like the way I teach.”
He added that: “After the first lecture, they started singing and dancing. So that was a good sign.”
It Takes a Village…
The fundraising effort was an example of it taking a village to make something happen.
Change Reaction, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, offered the students a matching grant of up to $10,000. They also arranged for a videographer to document the students’ determination. Their efforts are being made into a video by Dude Be Nice, an organization that documents feel-good stories across the US.
The students raised $3,000 through raffles and selling food at a basketball tournament and a movie night screening of “Ratatouille.”
Sarah Pachter, one of the boys’ parents, wrote an article about the effort for a Jewish website and ended up raising $13,000 in donations from around the world.
Shimmi Jotkowitz, a YULA senior, handled car negotiations at Galpin Motors, which offered a $5,000 discount for the car the students decided upon.
The older YULA students are hoping to set a precedent at the school and be an example for future generations of the importance of giving back to their teachers and mentors.
“This is kind of the beginning of that for our school. New kids are coming in every year and I think that hopefully, it will become a tradition to give back,” Gerendash said.
Rabbi Arye Sufrin, head of YULA, said the effort “is really about gratitude. This is about having our students appreciate the sacrifice that our teachers, and Mr. Castro in particular, make to ensure that [the students] maximize their potential and be the best version of themselves.”
YULA “opened the doors for me and accepted me as a family member,” Castro said. “And you can’t buy that. I want to be here.”