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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – A group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeks to double the number of young adults in Brownsville who earn postsecondary credentials – certificate, associate or bachelor’s – with labor market value by 2025.

Members of the All In Brownsville group, formerly known as Partners for Postsecondary Success, acknowledge it is an ambitious goal.

A key part of the All In strategy is to get parents more involved in the education of their children. They can do this, All In says, by instilling a love for learning, talking to their children about college, opportunity, and options, creating a positive learning environment, becoming familiar with college requirements, and letting their children know about dual enrollment.

“When you are involved in your child’s education, they will achieve more regardless of your economic status, ethnic or racial background or educational level. Stay involved in school activities and support school work. Be a partner with the teachers and the school staff. Volunteer in school events and send time with other parents. All of these are great ways to pass on important values to your child,” All In Brownsville states.

The group’s motto is Advancing Education, Creating Careers, Transforming Brownsville. Some of its members discussed the best way to achieve their goals at a forum hosted by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. Held at the Ambassador Event Center in Brownsville, the event was titled the State of Education forum.

Throughout the panel discussion –– speakers reiterated key themes that echoed All In’s six steps of student progression: Preparation, Connection, Entry, Progress, Completion and Employment.

Other recurring themes included the importance of students learning “soft skills,” such as social graces, communication tools and teamwork; the need for clear and focused student advising; development of keen literacy skills; schools’ expansion of career pathways, and overall increased collaboration between academic institutions and local businesses.

Dr. Guy Bailey, president of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was one of the panelists. He said the single most important thing the university must do is to retain the number of students it has.

“Moving forward, we will enhance successful initiatives of UTRGV’s legacy institutions. Also, we have begun to revisit past partnerships, and signed new articulation agreements, such as the one with Texas Southmost College,” Bailey said.

Another panelist, Dr. Marti Flores, vice president of instruction at Texas Southmost College, said it is heartbreaking when students apply to TSC and realize some of the credits they obtained in high school are “not remotely aligned” with their program of study.

Susan D. Valverde, executive director of Sylvan Learning, Rio Grande Valley, moderated the panel discussion. Other panelists included Marla M. Guerra, superintendent of South Texas Independent School District, Michael J. Motyl, interim president of Saint Joseph Academy, Tom Torkelson, founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools, Layla Trevino, dean of academics for Harmony Science Academy Brownsville; and Esperanza Zendejas, superintendent of the Brownsville Independent School District.

Traci Wickett, president and CEO of United Way of Southern Cameron County and administrator of the All In initiative, told attendees about the expansion of the successful All In Student Ambassadors program, which now reaches students as young as pre-kindergarten.

“The All In partners are committed to incssreasing the number of students who are prepared for college-level courses,” Wickett said. “Financial aid resources are limited, and we want to ensure that students use their assistance to pay for credit-bearing courses, rather than developmental education.”

Editor’s Note: A panel of Valley education leaders participated in an All In Brownsville panel discussion on “The State of Education,” Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, at the Ambassador Event Center in Brownsville. UTRGV President Guy Bailey addressed the importance of retaining students once they have begun a college program. (Photo courtesy of UTRGV/David Pike)

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