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South Texas Living

‘The pay is not great but the rewards are out of this world’

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
June 6, 2012 | 1,940 views | Post a comment

It was refreshing, to say the least, to read positive comments about The New Deal and The Great Society, and especially about Head Start, by Tracy Bogert in the May 23 issue of the Wilson County News. I have a special place in my heart for Head Start. It was there for me and my family when we needed it.

Henry was working at Southern Steel in San Antonio, not earning very much money. Only Letty had graduated from high school and was working in San Antonio, so with nine kids still at home, I needed a job to help out. In January of 1973, I was hired as part-time help at Maxine’s Fashion Shop. It would help some. But with the two youngest, Frank and Lia, still at home, I could not afford to pay for babysitting.

I applied at Head Start for them, and by the grace of God, there were openings for both of them. Frank was 5 and Lia was barely 3. Frank only stayed there that semester and then went on to first grade. Lia stayed there that spring and two more years. Because of our large family, we still qualified financially and Lia qualified age-wise.

By the time she went to kindergarten, I was already working at the Head Start center as the assistant cook. Besides providing services for children, Head Start gives parents the opportunity to help themselves by enabling them to apply for positions when they are available within the program. Because I had put in a lot of volunteer hours at the center, I was encouraged to apply for the position in the kitchen when it became available. That was the start of my career at Head Start.

After working in the kitchen for nearly 10 years, I was blessed with the position of teacher-director of the center, which I held for two years. Because of the demands of the job and having teenagers at home that required my attention, I willingly stepped down and was happy to spend the last 14 years as head teacher in one of the two classrooms.

I didn’t stay with Head Start just because it was a job. There were plenty of times when we were not sure if the job would be there the following year. I believed in what I was doing, as do most of those who have ever worked for Head Start. Not a week goes by that I don’t run into some of my former students. Most of them remember me -- a few don’t. It makes me feel good when they tell me of their accomplishments.

When I left Head Start, the center director, Mrs. Mac, had a sign on the wall in her office that read, “The pay is not that great but the rewards are out of this world.” How true! My first monthly paycheck for six-hour days was a whopping $245, before deductions. It got better as the years went by. My last check as a head teacher in 1999 was $1,633, gross pay. I didn’t keep every single check stub, but I kept those.

As for Lia, I guess those two and a half years at Head Start gave her some kind of incentive. It took a while but she has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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