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Highlighting Storytelling at CAST Schools


In the early days of CAST Schools, we wanted our students to be connected to local artists and storytellers, and so we began a collaboration with tech leader Lorenzo Gomez III to put his business book, Cilantro Diaries, in the hands of our students. Among other lessons, the book stresses the importance of building a network that will help you be your best self, which the author calls “a personal board of directors.”


When he came to share the story of his personal journey to CAST Tech, we noticed how captivated our students were, but we were even more struck by how students of that first class at CAST Tech High School adopted this phrase, referring to peers, teachers, and mentors as members of their personal board. Building on this experience, we introduced Gomez’s second book, Tafolla Toro, to younger students as an entry point to discussing mental health. Teachers reported that students could not put the book down, and as we explored ways to build on the powerful connection students felt to stories of bullying and healing, we began to work with the author to turn the book into a play, which we renamed: “Three Years of Fear.” This collaborative effort has turned into an annual introductory event for all of our 9th graders, which we use as an opportunity to encourage young people to claim their own story.


This year, across our schools, and schools across their country, there has been a renewed debate about the role of phones in the classroom and generally in young people’s lives. We recognize that the Genie is out of the bottle, as it were, but new studies are pushing our thinking about how we engage – especially with social media. So we were thrilled this year when Gomez released his 4th book, “The Bully in Your Pocket,” which explores online bullying, and ways to combat it. Because he is incredibly giving of his time, we had the good fortune of sharing this book with our students at our 10th grade Youth Rally, at CAST Lead in East Central, and to the entire middle school at the Advanced Learning Academy.


When I first started teaching right out of college, I was very nervous that I wouldn’t be successful because the students wouldn’t like me; I wouldn’t be funny enough, or interesting enough to keep their attention. Over more than 30 years of working with young people, I have learned that if you show up with your whole heart, young people (much more than adults) have the ability to recognize when an adult cares about them, and that is really all that matters. Unlike me, Gomez is witty, a polished speaker, and he thrives on the Q&A with our students, the crazier the questions the better. He compares the thrill to Improv.


Our partnership with Gomez, which started when he was a leader in Geekdom and Tech Bloc, has flourished into a collaboration centered around storytelling. For me, it reinforces one of CAST’s core pillars, which is relationships, and the heart of our model, which is partnerships.


In a full circle moment, Gomez spoke Friday to the graduating classes of the Advanced Learning Academy and CAST Tech High Schools. The very first question was: “What would you say is advice for someone who is trying to find their board of directors…what would you say are good tips for trying to narrow the good from the bad?” The next question built on that, asking: “how can you tell if the advice is good?” His answers are so authentic, full of common sense tips like: if your gut tells you something is off, ask 2 or 3 people, take more time, sleep on it.


One thing of our CAST LIVE speakers series, where we bring leaders to share their personal leadership journeys with our students, is that we look for leaders who are doing well and doing good. We’re so grateful to Lorenzo Gomez III for so many years of partnering with our students, and for his willingness to lead with love.


Jeanne Russell

Executive Director

CAST Schools


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The Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) Network is a tax-exempt organization as described in Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. CAST Schools are partnership schools with a focus on STEM careers, project based learning and work-based learning. Key partners include public school districts, higher education institutions, and local employers from target industries.