July 1, 2021 — Angelita Castañon, who previously served as an NMH associate dean of students, stepped into her role as NMH’s new dean of students today. She has returned to NMH after a two-year stint as dean of students at Cranbrook-Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Before that, she spent seven years as an associate dean of students at NMH, and one year as interim dean of students. She has held several other roles at NMH including Spanish teacher, class advisor, and student advisor. She began working with NMH in 2002 through the Upward Bound Summer Academy.
What drew you to NMH?
I was drawn to NMH because of its mission to educate the head, heart, and hand. Starting with my time with Upward Bound, I saw that the faculty were ambassadors of this mission — they lived it out in their daily work with students. So, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to join a community that embraces the potential of the whole child.
In many ways, NMH has been home for most of my adult life. With every position I held, I was welcomed, my talents were nurtured, and I was supported to grow as an educator. Now, I have the opportunity to give back during a time when we want to innovate and elevate programs — not just for the students but with them.
What are your priorities? How will you enhance residential life programs and foster community building?
We’ve all lived through a challenging 18 months. Its impacts will be felt even as we “return to normal.” What we needed was physical distance from others, and the use of “social distancing” resulted in physical separation, but in many cases, social disconnection. My priority is to focus on re-establishing what it means to be in community with one another. How do we live, work, and play together? How do we show up for one another and embrace a common purpose to care for others just as much as we care for ourselves? To realize this, I hope to spend time with our students, our faculty, and our staff to identify and create opportunities to come together that are reflective of the needs of all.
What motivates you to do this work?
Working with teenagers, and specifically in a boarding community, is something I love dearly. Adolescence is all about growth and change, as students engage in experiences that will help shape who they become. Key to this growth is the ability to authentically belong. With belonging comes safety and with safety comes the ability to take risks, to make mistakes, and to fail — sometimes spectacularly — thus allowing for reflection and learning. I thrive on creating a community with my students and my colleagues that emphasizes belonging and that allows students to grow from their mistakes rather than be labeled by them. I also thrive on creating a community that allows us to have fun, too.
How will NMH support students this coming school year?
NMH has a long history of supporting students. As we go into this new school year, we will continue to focus on building authentic relationships through advisory and bonding as a community through dorm programs, weekend activities, and other student-centered interactions. And we will continue to make space for student voices — support has to include the people for whom the supports are created.
How can supporting students now help them in the long run?
Our students are amazing individuals and, in many ways, are mature beyond their years. Sometimes though, we can forget that they are still adolescents. Critical to supporting students is reminding them that it is natural to struggle and that is not the end of the world. In moments of struggle, we need to know how to reach out for help because help is always within reach. This is a life skill that will support students in life, not just in academics.
What lessons did you learn from your work this past year?
At various points throughout this pandemic, we were functioning in survival mode, which meant that the ability to slow down was not always present. As I reflect now, I am reminded of several truths. We all want to do our jobs to the best of our ability. We all want to live in a community that is respectful, supportive, empathetic, safe, and fun. We all want to be seen, heard, and valued. My job is to support these truths in all aspects of my work with faculty, students, and families. This year, I would like to commit to re-establishing not just communication, but conversation.
How does social-emotional wellness show up in your life?
Being a dean is very rewarding because we get to help students grow through some of their most vulnerable moments. Oftentimes, this means that we are navigating through complex emotions with families. Because we care so much, the weight of this work can be heavy so it is really important for us to take care of ourselves, too. Finding balance and having fun with students — helping them to see me as more than just the dean — is key to my social-emotional wellness. I also work really hard to remind myself that self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.
What are your passions, hobbies, or interests outside of work?
I grew up on Lake Michigan so for me, spending time on the water is one of the most restorative things I can do for myself. Other than that, I love to gather with friends or family. Feeding people brings me joy so cooking is something I do often. When I can, I combine these two passions with travel and have been blessed to have visited many places throughout the world.
Are you going to serve in any additional roles at NMH?
As an associate dean, I was able to teach and serve as a faculty advisor to our affinity group for domestic Latinx students. I hope to be able to re-engage with one or both of these roles if my responsibilities allow.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
NMH is a really special community. Having spent time away, I can say with full authority that the people — students, faculty and staff — are what make it so. I am thrilled to be coming home and can’t wait to welcome new students and families in August!