Angel Santiago is in his eighth year of teaching and a fifth-grade instructor at Loring-Flemming Elementary School in Gloucester Township.
He not only actively encourages his students to chase their dreams, but serves as an example of how those dreams can pay off, in ways students might not imagine.
When Santiago introduces a new group of students to his classroom each year, he plays a video of the band Days Like These performing and asks students if anyone in the video looks familiar.
Santiago does, because he’s the band’s lead singer.
It’s that outgoing and caring personality that has helped Santiago connect with countless students during his time at Loring-Flemming, where he pushes students to find their interests and actively make their dreams a reality.
“At that point, they know I’m somewhat relevant and cool and that opens them up a little bit in the classroom,” said Santiago, recently named the 2020 New Jersey Teacher of the Year. He was also named the 2020-2021 Camden County Teacher of the Year last month, and celebrated with 20 other educators selected to represent their respective counties.
In high school, Santiago knew he wanted to be a teacher, to educate but also to serve as a strong role model, the way others did for him as he grew up in Vineland not long ago.
“I think, subconsciously, these teachers that kind of raised me to some extent were kind of prepping me to become one later on,” he said. “I always loved school and I had teachers that always helped make sure I was included and would find a way to get me involved. Because of that, I knew that becoming a teacher was my long-term career goal.”
But upon graduating from high school, he and five friends toured the country after signing a record deal. Their band produced two albums over the course of five years, performing shows at various venues and at events like Warped Tour, as they chased their dreams of making music for a living.
Santiago chased his dreams, living the life of a musician for several years. But the band eventually split, leading Santiago back to school at Cumberland County College to pursue his second love, teaching. He worked during the day and attended class at night, and after graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University, found himself in the Lindenwold school district for a year before entering the Gloucester Township district.
No longer performing on stage, Santiago now performs in front of a classroom audience.
“It was always my goal that after I took my shot at music, that I would go back to school and become a teacher,” he noted. “Every day, I still get to perform in front of a class. That’s just as exciting to me, because every day is something new. No two days are alike as a teacher.”
Having spent several years at Loring-Flemming, Santiago also strives to make a difference in the lives of his students and the community as a whole outside the classroom. He helped found and is the advisor to the Young People of Character Club, a group of fourth and fifth grade students with different backgrounds who come together to grow as leaders and complete different projects.
“We bring them together with the purpose of developing young, emphatic leaders that will be able to contribute right away,” Santiago explained.
He said the students complete various projects within the school to help keep it clean and recognize those doing important work, while also writing letters to veterans on Veterans Day and participating in the township’s day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, among other pursuits.
Moving forward, Santiago hopes to continue mentoring young minds and get them interested in learning, whatever their preferred subject.
“Regardless of if I became a famous singer,” he advised, “that has an expiration date, and I want these kids to realize that it’s great that they want to be football players or actors … but use that scholarship or extra time to get a degree, too, and get it in something you love.”