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Life in the Spotlight

A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Daniel Castaneda


“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” This Henry Adams quote represents Daniel Castaneda's career.

“I heard that quote years ago, and it drives me,” Castaneda said. “It reminds me that I help shape futures.”

Daniel Castaneda dedicates his life to the youth he serves. He is an Instructor at the Air Force Academy High School in Chicago, IL. This unique institution is the only public school that is also military school in America.

A self proclaimed “region rat,” Castaneda grew up In East Chicago. He was one of ten children raised by a single mother. His mother encouraged him to dream big. In fact, she was the biggest influence in his life.

“My mother raised ten kids without a high school diploma. There were hardships and headaches, but she never gave up,” Castaneda said.

After high school, Castaneda was called to serve his country. He joined the Air Force, and worked across an array of states and countries. After his exciting twenty-year career as an Operations Manager, Castaneda decided to serve in a different way.

For the past ten years, Castaneda helped to shape the futures of hundreds of students as a JROTC Instructor. Sadly, during this time, he learned that the stiffness he felt for years was a sign of something serious. It was early onset Parkinson’s disease. But Castaneda did not let his diagnosis slow him down.

“Everyday is busy,” Castaneda said. “I do PE, military drill, leadership and aviation history."

Castaneda’s students are diverse. Some attend the military school for the organized, structured environment, while others attend as a stepping stone into the service.

“The students are a mixed bag of fruit. We get above average students and some are behind academically,” Castaneda said. “But we cater to everyone.”

Castaneda reaches his students beyond academics. He feels it’s important to encourage his students to spend time thinking about who they want to be.

“I express to my students the importance of college, military, trade or the work-force,” Castaneda said. “I tell them to start thinking about it and working toward it.”

Castaneda also guides his students to think for themselves and rise above peer pressure.

“I encourage my students to be leaders . When you are younger and you want acceptance, it’s easy to follow the crowd. That can leads to bad decisions.”

When Castaneda isn’t teaching, you’ll find him with his family. He has 6 children: 4 adult sons, and 2 young daughters. His daughters are 9 year old twins.

“Right now, my biggest hobby is what the girls need,” Castaneda said. “They have softball and dance class, so they are busy with that. My wife and I spend a lot of time catering to their needs.”

When he gets extra time, Castaneda enjoys fishing and cardio kickboxing. He also is active in the Portage community.

“I have great neighbors. They are always willing to help. Portage is a great community,” Castaneda said.

For Castaneda, being a teacher has many rewards. One of the biggest is hearing from previous students. Discovering that he made an impact is the highlight of his career.

“With the power of social media, students reach out. When they tell me that some of the things I’ve said stuck with them, that sits well with me,” Castaneda said.

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