Visit Athlos Leadership Academy in Brownsville, TX on any day, at any time, and you’re sure to see her. Whether she’s welcoming students in the morning, cheering on athletes after school, supporting the chess team in regional competitions, or interacting with students and teachers in the classroom, Yolanda Cantu is always present.
“My favorite word is care,” Ms. Cantu said. “Students need to feel that you care about them and they will believe in you. It has to come from your heart. We educators are role models.”
As the middle and high school principal of Athlos Leadership Academy in Brownsville, Ms. Cantu takes pride in her students and shows her pride by supporting them in every way possible.
“My students are the best part of my professional life,” Ms. Cantu said. “I have a big interest in making a difference in every student’s future. I want to help them to be successful in life, to have high self-esteem, believe in themselves, be positive, and conquer their goals. Everything is possible.”
As a child, Ms. Cantu remembers playing teacher with her cousins. She always had a strong desire to support and to lead, and especially loved to help her younger family members with homework. However, after college, Ms. Cantu ended up working in business.
“I realized that something was missing, and I felt that I was not doing what I was supposed to do,” Ms. Cantu said. “I decided to take the route of becoming an educator.”
Ms. Cantu went on to earn a master’s degree in early childhood education, a master’s degree in school administration, and is currently working on a superintendent certificate. She also has plans to begin a doctorate in education.
After 11 years of teaching, Ms. Cantu found her place at Athlos Academy, where she fits perfectly with the school’s academic model, goals, and high expectations of both students and staff. Growing up, her father would talk about the same Performance Character traits that are an integral part of an Athlos education.
“When I got the job, my brother told me that he couldn’t believe I got the principal position in a school that has everything that I am,” Ms. Cantu said. “His words meant a lot to me. He knows that education is big for me. I believe that we never stop learning. He knows that I love sports and that I believe that they make you a better person.”
Ms. Cantu said the Athlos three-pillar approach to education gives students the tools needed to succeed in life and fosters an environment where there is more involvement between teachers, students, administrators, and parents.
“Every day at Athlos is memorable,” Ms. Cantu said. “Every time our students excel in the classroom or in an event, academics, or athletics is wonderful.”
Ms. Cantu’s impact can be seen in the way her students support her, just like she does them. A passionate runner, Ms. Cantu participates in multiple marathons and has a goal to run races worldwide. Before one of her most recent marathons, Ms. Cantu’s students took time during a pep rally to encourage her.
“The students made a little video about me running, they had signs that said, ‘Good luck Ms. Cantu,’ and the cheerleaders prepared a cheer for me,” Ms. Cantu said.
It’s not just the students who see Ms. Cantu’s larger impact. Recently, Ms. Cantu was awarded with Reader’s Choice Principal of the Year by the Brownsville Herald. While she was surprised by the unexpected appreciation, she was excited that community members recognize her individual efforts, as well as all that Athlos Leadership Academy is accomplishing as a school.
“We are trying to give our students the best education and experiences so they can become well rounded young adults,” Ms. Cantu said. “It’s important to provide the community with educational choices for our children, because it brings all the educational levels up in every district. This is what we want for our students.”