Teacher finds a home at WEGO, but loves to travel the world


Photo by Arabia Patino

World Languages teacher Arabia Patino celebrates her graduation from North Central College.

By Cristina Soto, Reporter

The colorful skirts swoosh as the girls on stage, their faces adorned with exaggerated makeup, perform a routine representing the different states of Mexico. The music changes in pitch and tempo, as the audience cheers enthusiastically. Such is the Ballet Folklórico, a traditional Mexican dance, known for its colorful skirts, close to World Language teacher Arabia Patino’s heart.

On March 10, I had the opportunity to meet with one of WEGO’s newer teachers after she finished passing out dance shoes and black practice skirts for the school’s Ballet Folklorico. The group warmed up, then practiced the choreography they will perform at Latin Fever later this spring. 

She is a nice person. She is the best coach ever, and I like working with her because the idea they have in the club is interesting for me,” said sophomore Humira Hotaky.

Patino, outside the Louvre, during a trip to Paris. (Photo by Arabia Patino)

Patino, a hard-working, passionate, helpful, involved, and introverted teacher, has been involved in the organization since the beginning of the 2021 school year. Previously, she danced for two years at her middle school in Mexico, so she has first-hand experience with Ballet Folklórico.  

When she is not dancing, Patino enjoys working with students. She has been teaching at WEGO for 2 years, having been hired right after graduating from North Central College, which she attended as a first-generation Hispanic student. Unfortunately, her first year of teaching was via Zoom, and so this is her first year instructing in-person. 

Patino said, “I love the community! I like how the staff were really willing to help me out and just the building.”

When she started at West Chicago Community High School, she thought to herself, “Wow, this is a really nice school,” because “at the time, they had renovated a lot of rooms,” which excited her even more.

Patino’s classroom, on the third floor, is located at the end of the hallway, next to Alejandra Tantachuco’s classroom. Patino’s desk is hidden at the right side of her classroom, and decorated with art the students have created, as well as flags that represent the Spanish-speaking countries. 

Patino teaches French, Spanish for native speakers, and a study skills class. 

“I like the students. I like how I can relate to a lot of the students because we come from similar backgrounds. and I like that I can see myself in the students and also they can see themselves in me, in a way,” said Patino. 

She knew she wanted to continue learning a new language when she first took French in high school. 

“Teaching was very natural to me. I loved school when I was in high school, and as a kid,” said Patino.

Her friends and coworkers would describe her as kind, cheerful, motivational, and a hard worker. Neighbor Tantachuco said, “Ms. Patino is such a joy to work with! She brings an extremely positive and creative outlook to our World Languages Department, specifically through her multifaceted role as a teacher in both our Spanish for Natives Speakers program and French courses. Ms. Patino is incredibly dedicated to her students and goes above and beyond to support them inside and outside of the classroom!”

Upon being hired at WEGO, Patino got involved with OLA’AS, and more recently with Ballet Folklorico.  WEGO marks the first school Patino has taught within, as she “started working here right after college”.

“I work too much – not only here in school, but with everything I do,” said Patino, who would describe herself as “ambitious [to] accomplish different goals.”

Patino teaches a class during the 2021-22 school year. (Photo by Arabia Patino)

Prior to working at WEGO, Patino was finishing her degree in French and education, with a minor in ESL. She described North Central as “the best decision I made for myself”, and found the college was the best fit for her in size, interaction, communication, and the good education program they offered. Patino also took two classes at Waubonsee Community College before starting at North Central as part of the first-generation student program at the college.  

“It was really satisfying not just to make myself proud, but also my parents. As a first-generation Latina, [my degree] is also very important to my family,” said Patino. The chance to continue her education meant a lot to her and her family, who came from Mexico. 

Patino said, “It is hard, but you can do it.”

She really wanted to “master this language to meet new people” because she hoped travel opportunities would open up for her: Patino loves traveling, and wanted to study abroad. She studied in France for four months, from September to the day after Christmas. 

Patino’s hardest obstacle throughout her teaching journey was teaching via Zoom. 

“There was nothing I did in school that prepared me to do it,” said Patino. 

She explained how upsetting it was that she built high expectations for building relationships with her students, only to find everything had to be done electronically. 

Despite the barriers that came with online learning, her students appreciated her efforts. 

Sophomore Joselyn Figueroa, who had Patino as a French teacher last year, said, “She laughs when students make jokes. I find her stuff ‘not boring’.”

Now that in-person classes have resumed, she is creating more bonds with students. 

“She is very open to talk with – a good listener,” said sophomore Cecilia Cuautle. 

Patino’s dog, Nino. (Photo by Arabia Patino)

Those sentiments were echoed by sophomore Ubaldo Lopez, who said, “Ms. Patino is very chill. She is always trying to get people involved. She’s more like a friend.” 

Patino recently moved out of her parents’ house in Aurora, and now lives with her boyfriend, along with three roommates and two dogs. For Patino, this is “my first time living somewhere else that is not my house, or friends.” 

The roommates all get along well, and have embraced Patino’s dog, a Shih Tzu Maltese named Nino, who is joined by her friend’s dog, a Shiba Inu named Tequila.

Patino’s weekends consist of doing yoga or going to the gym: something that keeps her moving. In her free time, she also likes hiking, road trips, and watching movies, but “not [in] movie theaters because I’ll fall asleep.”

She has recently been watching all the Marvel movies, but her favorite films are romantic ones. She enjoys watching The Notebook, Me Before You, The Last Song and A Walk to Remember.

And, of course, Patino still loves traveling, a “bug” she picked up while studying abroad. 

“At some point in my life, I would like to go everywhere, but I think, so far, my favorite place I have visited has been Morocco,” said Patino, who spent two weeks living with a host family and volunteering for an after-school program in the African country in June 2021 She worked with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), an organization that partners volunteers with service opportunities in more than 42 countries.

My favorite thing about my trip was that I got to live like a local for two weeks. Moroccans are very welcoming and my host family made sure I felt at home. I got to learn a little bit of Moroccan Arabic (Darija), and try delicious food,” said Patino.

During spring break she traveled to Oregon, and is looking forward to traveling to Guatemala this summer. Patino expressed a desire to “explore as much as I can.”

Considering Patino’s inclination to see the world, it may come as a surprise, then, to learn that she is an introvert, and considers herself shy; as a teacher, people expect her to be more outgoing. Patino feels more comfortable when she gets to know her students, but if she were asked to present in front of strangers, she feels she could not do it. 

“Do not ask me to present in front of other people because I’d cry,” said Patino, who finds she has a hard time making new friends, but enjoys alone time.

She would give up some of that alone time to have dinner again with her grandparents. She would like to appreciate them more, and not take them for granted. 

Patino said, “I feel like older people have so much to teach you and you just need to listen and be there.” 

Although everyone has regrets, they also have accomplishments in which they take pride, and so does Patino. Not only was going to college and earning a degree a major accomplishment for her, but buying a house in North Aurora was another recent accomplishment. 

“I like to find the happiest moment of every day,” said Patino, who refuses to look back, and instead focuses on the future. 

In 5 years, Patino envisions herself “still in my classroom, still teaching at WEGO, being a better teacher and a better person.”