Alumnus Spotlight: Rodrigo Sánchez

Rodrigo Sánchez
Rodrigo Sánchez

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2014 graduate teaching at Garlough Environmental Magnet School

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Rodrigo Sánchez, 25, moved to Minnesota when he was 9 years old. Rodrigo attended Garlough Environmental Magnet School as a fourth-grader. Fifteen years later, he is back at Garlough, an elementary school in West St. Paul, only this time as a teacher focused on educating students in the third grade.
After graduating from Henry Sibley High School in 2012, Rodrigo enrolled at Inver Hills Community College. He earned an Associate of Arts (A.A.) and an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Education Foundations in 2014. He continued his education at Metropolitan State University, earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Urban Elementary Education K–6 in 2018. He was named Educational Student of the Year during his time at Metro.
Rodrigo reconnected with Garlough while at Inver Hills completing his field observation experience as a teacher education student.
“When I first came to Inver, I was considering a career in law enforcement,” he recalled. “That early experience in the field working with kids showed me what I really wanted to be was a teacher. My mom was happy with my choice. The whole side of her family is teachers.”
Rodrigo put in more than 100 hours during his field time at Garlough, which was double what was required to secure an A. He worked after school Mondays through Wednesdays in the School Age Care (SAC) program and volunteered five hours every Friday to help out in the classroom.
“Being able to work with my different students was one of the best parts of my field experience,” Rodrigo said. “I also enjoyed the after-school program and getting the chance to go into the classrooms. I was able to experience the true feeling of Garlough’s environmental aspect. I also got to work with many different grades so I saw a little bit of everything. The field experience helped launch my teaching career at Garlough.”

Garlough Environmental Magnet School highlights

  • 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 National Magnet School of Excellence
  • 2016, 2017, 2018 National Magnet School of Distinction
  • 2011 Minnesota Magnet School of Merit
  • 2012 U.S. ED Green Ribbon School
  • 2014 Campus Compact Presidents’ Community Partner Award

Rodrigo Sánchez | Q & A

Rodrigo Sánchez
Rodrigo Sánchez

How did your field experience at Garlough prepare you to be a teacher?
Again, I got to work with all grades, I got to see what Garlough focused on. I got to work with many different students. I got to see how students worked as an individual and as a whole group, and again to even work with the after-school program and help students with homework and also with extra activities.
What advice would you give Inver Hills Education majors considering teaching careers?
Do it. A lot of these students need to see young teachers and have them share their stories and how they have overcome the same obstacles students are confronting now. Get out to schools and experience firsthand the culture of schools, the culture of classrooms to see how each student brings something very important to each classroom.
What is your teaching philosophy?
I believe that all of my children can and will learn. To ensure that all my students will reach their potential, I will maintain high expectations and promote academic excellence for all students. I will create and support a school environment in which all my students and their families feel welcomed, respected, trusted and an important part of the family. I will create an environment where we can learn together and support each other, because I will not be the only teacher in the classroom, my students will learn from each other each and every day.
I also believe that teaching is like a triangle, students on the top, parent/guardians on one corner and teacher on the other, all keeping the triangle intact, strong and even. I also strongly believe in a positive environment for all students to promote a caring community and a positive view on each other to respect and value our classroom diversity.

Three words that describe you as a teacher:

What do you like best about teaching at Garlough?
Having so much diversity in our school. The environmental aspect we get to experience firsthand. The natural habitats we have so close to each other like the Dodge Nature Center. You can bring your twist into the school and collaborate to make Garlough fun and exciting.
What are your most important responsibilities as a third-grade teacher?
Getting my students ready to take on the responsible role. Keep your students motivated to continue to strive even when it gets hard. Third grade is a make or break grade for a lot of students so I want to make sure I push them to the limit they are capable of.
What is one thing every elementary school teacher should know?
Patience is the key to success. Go slow to go fast and always keep the mentality to switch things up last minute based on the success of your students.
What are the best attributes third-graders bring to your classroom?
Their personalities and the willing to learn not only from me, but from each other. They are eager to learn day by day and they work well together and help each other succeed.
What is the most rewarding aspect of a teaching young children?
Hearing them say that they love coming to school because you are their teacher. Seeing them succeed even for the smallest things. Seeing them succeed overall.
What do you consider your toughest challenge in life?
Failing my students, not pushing them enough or not doing enough for them.
Your greatest accomplishment so far?
Being named Educational Student of the Year from the program out at Metro State.
Your highest goal?
Potentially opening up my own school or becoming superintendent.

More about Rodrigo…

Rodrigo’s mom, Jeannette Gomez, is a home daycare provider with an extensive background as an elementary school teacher. Many of the ideas Rodrigo incorporates in his third-grade classroom are the result of brainstorming with his mom. Rodrigo’s dad, Rodrigo Sánchez Vargas, is an operator/supervisor at Baldinger Bakery in St. Paul. His sister, Zully, 12, is a seventh-grader at Heritage E-STEM Magnet Middle School in West St. Paul.
Brittany Stepan, 23, Rodrigo’s girlfriend, is majoring in accounting and marketing at Metro State, where they first met. Brittany’s family lives in Duluth and Rodrigo likes spending time with her by Lake Superior.
When he’s not teaching at Garlough, Rodrigo enjoys watching and playing soccer, although he has a hard time finding time for the latter nowadays. He lettered in soccer at Henry Sibley and has competed on a number of adult club teams. His favorite professional soccer team is Real Madrid. He has season tickets to the Minnesota Vikings, who are 5–3–1 as of November 7, 2018.
He likes reading novels in series and recently reread all seven books in the Harry Potter series. Rodrigo resides in West St. Paul.

Susan Powell

Principal, Garlough Environmental Magnet School

Sue Powell
Sue Powell

Q & A

What advice would you give Inver Hills Education majors completing field observation experiences on the path to careers in education?
My advice to IHCC Education majors is to get into as many schools as possible and volunteer as much as possible. You will never regret volunteering too many hours, yet not having a realistic understanding of the demands of education can occur when experiences are limited.
In addition, every school has its own personality that becomes obvious when you are able to experience more than one school. Always, always, always engage with the students in the classroom where you are volunteering. Please do not just stand in the back of the room. Pull a chair up next to a student and ask questions and give feedback.
Every adult in a classroom has an opportunity to make a difference with a child every moment they are in a classroom, so don’t hang out on the perimeter and feel nervous. Urban and diverse suburban schools like ours, give students a real-life experience with the realities of education today. Of course, speaking a second language is a huge asset.
How has Garlough’s partnership with Inver Hills benefited your school and our students?
We have benefited in soooo many ways—I can’t even come close to mentioning them all. Most importantly, our students benefit from the 1:1 interactions they experience from IHCC students.

  1. During the storytelling class, our students benefited from seeing college students who looked like them and knew the classic tales and fairy tales from their home countries, and wrote about them.
  2. We have two amazing murals in our school.
  3. A math class came for years and did a math game night for families. This was a huge hit and the college students loved it as much as our families!
  4. Garlough is benefiting from our students who are now returning as teachers and as IHCC volunteers. Our current students see themselves in our staff and the college students. This also benefits our staff and community as a whole.

How has Rodrigo made a difference as a third grade teacher at Garlough?
Since Rodrigo went through our school and system, and has personal and family connections to current GEMS staff and other ISD 197 staff, he is an amazing role model for all our students and especially our second language learners. Rodrigo knows what it takes as a student to succeed in school and life while balancing life between two cultures …and so is the most qualified to show our students the path. Rodrigo wears his pride, gratitude and positive outlook on life “on his sleeve.” It couldn’t be more obvious he was born to be a teacher!

Rodrigo Sánchez | 21 Answers


  1. Favorite season: Summer
  2. aaa_tigerFavorite natural feature (e.g., waterfalls, oceans, mountains, etc.): Lakes, especially Lake Michigan
  3. Favorite sport or physical activity: Soccer
  4. Your national bird if you could have one: Bald eagle
  5. Place you would most like to visit: Rome, Italy
  6. Favorite holiday: Christmas
  7. Your national mammal if you could have one: Bengal tiger
  8. Favorite actor or actress: Dwayne Johnson/Scarlett Johansson
  9. Favorite band or performing artist: Band: Imagine Dragons. Solo artist: Drake
  10. aaa_mansionYour personal motto if you had to have one: “Just when you think you are doing okay, think of a way to do better.”
  11. Coolest thing in the world: The evolution of technology in our everyday lives
  12. Scariest thing in the world: Hate between people
  13. Favorite all-time TV show: Friends
  14. Favorite all-time movie: The Lion King
  15. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Open my own school.
  16. Most valuable material possession: My necklace that was given to me by my aunt and uncle.
  17. First thing you would buy if you won the $1.5 billion Powerball: Buy my mother a house on a lake and retire both my mom and dad.
  18. aaa_realDream occupation: Real Madrid head coach
  19. Person you would most like to meet: Cristiano Ronaldo or Barack Obama
  20. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Fly a commercial airliner
  21. Humankind’s greatest challenge: Accepting change and the beautiful thing that we are all similar in our own unique way.
Learn more about Education Foundations at Inver Hills by contacting:

Cheryl Redinger
Teacher Education Instructor

Learn more about earning an Associate of Arts (A.A.) at Inver Hills by contacting:

Admissions Team
College Center

Learn more about education field observation experiences by contacting:

Shannon Williams
Community-Based Learning Coordinator

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