Making Matriculation: Marco Castillo, Senior Director of College Counseling, IDEA McAllen

This year, IDEA Public Schools celebrates 20 years of impact on students, families, staff, and communities. Within that time, IDEA’s track record of academic success has been chronicled on national rankings such as U.S. News and World Report and the Jay Mathews Challenge Index, formerly known as America’s Most Challenging High Schools published in The Washington Post.  

This year, 15 eligible IDEA college preparatory schools were ranked among the top one percent of the most challenging high schools in the nation by the Jay Mathews Challenge Index with eleven IDEA schools ranked in the top 25 of all high schools nationwide.  

In addition, IDEA schools ranked in the top 25% of charter schools nationwide, with eight schools ranked among the top 10 in Texas. IDEA College Preparatory McAllen ranked as the top high school in both Texas and the Rio Grande Valley and third in the entire nation! 

As we celebrate the Class of 2020’s matriculation to college, we caught up with Marco Castillo, IDEA Senior Director of College Counseling at IDEA College Preparatory McAllen, to reflect on what it really takes to achieve 100% matriculation year over year. 


How long have you been with IDEA?  

I have been with IDEA for the last 10 years. I began as a middle school science teacher and have served as Senior Director of College Counseling since August 2016. 


How does IDEA maintain such a strong record of matriculation each year?   

Our counseling teams work tirelessly to support our students to get to college by completing the college application and financial process. We maintain a strong record of matriculation by ensuring our students can develop and commit to their college-going identity for self-advocacy and perseverance in the face of challenges. However, we are here to support our students and families as needed. The relationships college counselors build with students and families are instrumental in helping and supporting our students who face challenges to matriculation. From the application season to navigating financial aid, and registering for classes, our counselors are with students every step of the way!   


Why is IDEA’s college-bound culture so significant? 

Growing up in an immigrant family that valued education as a path to success, we have personally benefited from the many benefits of obtaining a college degree. Creating a college-bound culture is significant for our communities, as we are providing an opportunity to change the lives and trajectory for many firstgeneration families. Attending college is both the first step toward achieving a family dream and the path toward social and economic mobility. 


What does it take to really prepare students for success in college? 

It takes a college readiness curriculum and a culture of building a college graduate identity. Rigorous curriculums such as STEM, Advanced Placement (AP), and our International Baccalaureate (IBProgramme all support the academic preparedness to take on any college course. However, building the college graduating identity of students from envisioning and believing, to planning and managing is a foundational component for college readiness.  


Tell me about a student or memory that stands out in your career that really makes you proud. Why was this significant? 

The memory that stands out in my career is our journey with our Tiger Founding Class. In 2012, our founding team promised our families we would see them through the journey of to and through college. We kept to that promise and in 2019 graduated 107 Seniors who ultimately went on to schools such as Duke University, American University, Northeastern University, University of Houston, University of Michigan, Wabash College, and many others!  


What are you most proud of each year when you see your students matriculate to colleges and universities across the U.S.? 

I am humbled to be a part of an organization that is focused on ensuring our students are college-ready and commits to supporting 100% of students every day! The biggest obstacle for many families in low-income communities is the lack of information for first-generation students on how to navigate the college landscape. IDEA is closing that gap in each community as we provide one-on-one support throughout the college application process—from personal statements and financial aid to matriculation and how to solve common first-year challenges. I am proud to see each of our students develop the academic readiness and college graduating identity to take on their college journey whether it be locally or in any state across the nation.  

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