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Arkansas State University

Idaho Resident Heather Castillow Receives Pair of Online Degrees, Gives Gifts of Spuds

A-State MEd Reading graduate Heather sending notes

Heather sent several of her A-Stateprofessors a note with an Idaho “spud”

Heather Castillow has been teaching kindergarten long enough to know that receiving presents is practically part of the job description.

“I am constantly given thank-you gifts from students and parents,” she said. “I come home from school around Christmas or Valentine’s Day with armloads of gifts. My husband, Curtis, has a doctorate and teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He jokes with me, ‘I never get thank-you gifts. Never.'”

So, Castillow gave a gift to several of her instructors at Arkansas State University. She graduated from A-State’s Master of Science in Education in Reading online program in August 2019, one year after graduating from the Master of Science in Early Childhood Services online program.

Castillow gave each of the faculty members a potato. Sort of. She actually sent them an Owyhee Idaho Spud candy bar with a note explaining how the potato symbolizes the year-round harvest of the fruits of a teacher’s labors.

“I get lots of thank-you emails from my online students or just notes of what they appreciated from my courses, but this was a first,” A-State education professor Dr. Dixie Keyes said. “This made it a good day.”

Castillow taught for five years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. After moving to Idaho from her hometown of Ogden, Utah, she returned to the classroom to teach at tiny Lincoln Elementary in Rexburg.

“I felt like I needed to brush up a little bit and get to know the recent research better after coming back to teaching,” she said. “I knew there were two teachers at the school getting their master’s degrees, but I didn’t ask them about it. I thought, ‘I should do that. That would be a great idea.'”

Red Wolf Pack

A-State M.Ed. Reading graduate Heather with fellow graduates

Heather with her fellow Lincoln Elementary School teachers and A-State graduates Tracie Cloward, Susan Farmer, Brandi Walker, Jennifer Lester and Ann Ahrendsen.

Castillow enrolled at A-State after doing extensive research of online early childhood master’s programs. She primarily wanted one that teaches National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) standards. Hello, A-State!

“I went back to my school in the fall and told my colleagues about it,” she said. “They said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the university where we are enrolled!’ They were doing the reading master’s degree, while I was doing the early childhood master’s degree. We talked three others into starting, too.”

So, six teachers from the same small school in Idaho — Castillow, Tracie Cloward, Susan Farmer, Brandi Walker, Jennifer Lester and Ann Ahrendsen — were all enrolled at A-State online. That’s some bumper crop.

“On Fridays, we had lunch together and talked about what we were learning,” Castillow said. “They told me about their program, and I said, ‘I want to know that. I need to know that.’ They were doing the two-year program to get their master’s degree done. I was on the one-year plan.

“I thought, ‘If I get mine done quickly, I could end up finishing at the same time they did, and I could do the first year of the MSE Reading program with them.’ I took classes with them that second year. It was awesome. We loved doing it together and being with Arkansas State.”

By enrolling in a 100% online program, all six of the Idaho teachers could share the experience of earning a degree from a university 1,500 miles away.

Castillow appreciates the online format for enabling her to earn two master’s degrees while working full time.

“You can do it whenever you want,” she said. “I loved everything about it. Tuition was excellent and extremely low. A-State also has a strong online presence.”

Castillow, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education from BYU in 1991, gravitated toward the more hands-on courses in each of the master’s degree programs.

“I liked the capstone in the early childhood program because it was based on the NAEYC,” she said. “You create a portfolio with everything that you learned, which was an excellent way to go back and see what you learned and put it all together. It was very worthwhile.

“I liked the practicums in the reading program. You take a theory, put it into practice and see how it works with students. I could immediately use what I learned in the classroom.”

Eyes on the Future

Castillow couldn’t have pulled off earning two master’s degrees without a lot of support from her family, including her husband and children — Carly (22), Curtis Jr. (21), Brynn (18), Brigham (18) and Cutler (16).

“They made it possible,” she said. “I didn’t have to do any cleaning or cooking, so I could just study. It was nice. When my husband got his master’s and doctorate, it took him about seven years. I had to support him. When I had to go to work and come home and study for three or four hours, he said, ‘Okay, it’s my turn. I’ll do the dishes.’

“Bryn took over for me and did most of the cooking, cleaning and laundry. When I would come home, she would say, ‘I cleaned the kitchen. And the fridge looked dirty, so I cleaned that, too. Your clothes are all folded.’ I didn’t even ask her to do those things — she’s that kind of a daughter.”

That family support helped Castillow stay organized and manage her time efficiently while concentrating on school.

“It’s all in your court,” she said. “It’s a great thing that it’s so flexible, but you are the one making the decisions about when to do your work. There are no professors saying, ‘You have to come to class and do it.’ It’s all on you, which I liked. I could do it all in a day or two.”

Even though Castillow enjoys teaching kindergartners and occasionally being showered with gifts, she believes A-State’s online programs provided her with fertile ground for career growth.

“I felt like teaching was a calling,” she said. “I want to keep teaching and be really good at it. I wanted the reading degree so I could be a reading specialist, so I am pursuing opportunities to teach other teachers. I think these degrees will help me.”

Of course, having a stash of Owyhee Idaho Spud bars wouldn’t hurt, either.

Learn more about A-State’s online graduate programs.

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