When she was a student at Sunny Hill Elementary School, Ashley Villagomez (BHS ‘14) would often “play school” at home.
She would be the teacher and her parents, who both came to the United States from Mexico as teenagers, would be the students. “As I was learning to read and write at Sunny Hill, I would teach my family how to speak and write in English,” Villagomez said.
Even as a young girl, she recognized the impact she could make as a teacher. “Knowing that I was helping them to communicate at places like the grocery store, and just being able to make their lives a little easier was very satisfying.”
Now more than 20 years after she began her journey in Barrington 220, Villagomez works as a teacher at Sunny Hill, the place where she became inspired to pursue a career in education. “I have very fond memories of being a student at Sunny Hill,” Villagomez said. “I would wake up each morning super excited to go to school. My teachers always made the environment fun and engaging.”
One of her favorite teachers was her reading enrichment teacher, Lori Ford, who is now her colleague. “She always challenged me and pushed me to do more than I knew that I could do. She always believed in me,” Villagomez said. “Even when I went to middle school and then high school, she always checked in and made sure the transitions went smoothly.”
“During her time as a student at Sunny Hill, Ashley displayed a combination of reserve and an unwavering passion for learning,” Ford said. “Her leadership qualities were evident, yet she approached them with a quiet determination.”
Villagomez especially leaned on Ford, as well as her teachers at BHS, when it came time to apply for college. “I was the first person in my family to go to college, so it was tough for me to navigate the process on my own.”
But Villagomez knew without a doubt she wanted to go to college and one day become a teacher. Her child development teacher at BHS recommended her for the Golden Apple Scholarship, which she received in 2014. The scholarship program is a teacher preparation and tuition assistance program for high school seniors and Illinois college students who have the determination and drive to be highly effective teachers in Illinois schools of need. “I am super grateful for the staff that helped me because it made the process a lot easier and helped ease the financial burden of college,” Villagomez said.
She ended up majoring in Elementary Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, with a dream to one day return to Sunny Hill as a teacher. In 2018 that dream came true when she was hired to teach 4th grade. “I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to get into my classroom!”
Villagomez says it has been very nostalgic being back at Sunny Hill as a teacher. “I tell my students that when I was their age, I sat in these same classrooms. I think just having that shared experience with my students is super powerful. ”
“Having the privilege of working alongside Ashley now as a colleague is an invaluable gift. Not only do I have the incredible opportunity to witness her wholehearted dedication to her passion, but she also brings immeasurable value to our students and our school as both a former student and a current community member,” Ford said.
Villagomez hopes that she can serve as a role model for her students, as someone who went through the Barrington 220 School District and who now has a successful career in education. “I think it’s important that they see that this is a place I wanted to come back to, and it shows them that they can accomplish whatever they want to do.” Villagomez said.