EDINBURG, Texas – It is okay for parents in the Rio Grande Valley that do not come from a college-going culture to think about enhancing their own education, not just that of their children.   

This is the view of Barbara Gonzales, Vanguard Academy’s GEAR-UP director. 

“The biggest issue is getting the parents to think, it is okay for you to do something for yourself,” Gonzales told the Rio Grande Guardian, during a drive-by graduation ceremony for parents. 

“When we started talking to parents about doing the PASOS program, they were like, no, I am older, I don’t want to take time away from my family. But once we made them understand that they need to invest in themselves as well, and to fulfill some of those dreams they had about going to college, they became more responsive.”

By the end of this month, Gonzales said proudly, Vanguard will have about 39 parents from that will have a certificate from South Texas College and many more with a certificate for participating in the PASOS program. 

“This is the first year we have done these programs. And to do them during the pandemic is even more impressive,” Gonzales said. 

PASOS stands for Parent Academy for Success of Schools. It is run by the Mercedes-based nonprofit, Texas Valley Communities Foundation. 

“PASOS is a parental outreach program. The overall goal of the program is to help educate and empower parents so that they can, in turn, help their kids be successful in school,” said Adriana V. Lopez, executive director of the Texas Graduate Center, which is part of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation.

Lopez was on hand at Vanguard’s drive-by graduation ceremony to present certificates to the parents who had completed the PASOS program.

“Working with Vanguard we put on sessions like, how to create a college going culture at home, setting specific study areas for students, monitoring time on the devices, setting us specific study time,” Lopez explained.

“We have up to 15 parents per session and we do a session in English and in Spanish. For three hours on a Saturday for ten sessions. This is our third year with Vanguard. We have another program that focuses on students and another on teachers.”

Lopez said some parents did not graduate from college when they were younger. Others did not graduate from high school. 

“It is a really powerful image for their children to see their parents working hard work on their education. It is a dedication, a commitment. It is very powerful,” Lopez said.

“I have seen testimony from parents who went back to school, to get their GED, after participating in a program like ours. I have heard testimony of parents going back to college. I have definitely heard first hand the testimony of parents and the impact it has had.”

Bridgett Soto not only successfully completed the PASOS program, she also studied EKG via Vanguard and South Texas College. Her son Christopher is in 10th grade at Vanguard Rembrandt Secondary School.

“I learned a lot. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it very much, running the EKG machine, putting the electrodes on the patients. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to study this,” Soto said.

Soto said she took the EKG course to further her career. 

“I have wanted to be in the medical field since high school. Finally I got an opportunity and I said, this is my chance and I am taking it,” Soto said.

“With this certificate I hope to get a job in a clinic, and then, when my son graduates, a job in a hospital.”

Asked how tough the course is, Soto said: “It does seem like it is a hard course but no, it is actually very explanatory. The instructor was good, they had videos. I found it very helpful. If I can do it I am sure anybody else can do it.”

Soto added: “I had no clue how it was going to unfold. I was kind of nervous. I said, what have I got myself into? But, I took one week at a time. I had a lot of encouragement, friends and members of my church encouraged me. My son was my cook. He was studying during the day and I was studying during the evening. It worked out fine.”

Luzelma Canales is a board director of Vanguard Academy and a longtime educator. She, too, was at the drive-by graduation ceremony.

“Forty years of research tells us the No. 1 predictor of a child’s educational success is the mother’s education. It is so important that children see their mother in these caps and gowns and that they aspire not just to do the parent literacy courses but then to do the STC certificate.” Canales told the Rio Grande Guardian. “It also gives them a sense that it is doable for them.”

Canales said that many times, “borderlands people” are conscious of having an accent, especially the more recent immigrants.

“They struggle with, like, how will I sound in a classroom compared to others. So, this gives them a taste of success. Like anyone else from the world that emigrates to this country, they have accents and it is okay. It is not evidence of intelligence. It is evidence of having two dual languages which makes them even more, a better employee.”

Canales said it was uplifting to see all the smiles as the parents, mostly mothers, slipped on a cap and gown and accepted their certificates.

“I am super impressed with the husbands and how supportive they are being of the wives and their understanding of this. I was talking to a mom. She has an accounting degree from Mexico. So she is just getting the English training with the goal of wanting to go into American higher ed. We have highly intelligent folks that are highly educated going through our programs. So, it is a nice mix.”

Canales said she is impressed with how much time the parents put into their studies and with the investment Vanguard is making.

“You see the relationship the staff has with the parents. These are bonds they will have forever. Parents will give back for ever and a day,” Canales said.

“When folks talk about immigration this is the dream that every immigrant had. In the borderlands, we sometimes forget that many of us were here before this became America.”

Gonzales, Vanguard’s director of GEAR UP, said the ceremony was all about celebrating with the parents who completed their PASOS program and those who received their certificate from STC. 

“We had parents that graduated with their EKG, with lobotomy. We are so proud of them. It takes time and effort. I will be honest with you, a lot of parents in the very beginning were dubious they could do it.”

Gonzales said a college-going culture is not just about students it is also for the parents as well.

“With PASOS, we talk about financial literacy, we talk about a college-going culture, not only for the students but also for the parents. In those conversations, it spurs the interest. We have some parents here today who have never worn a graduation gown or a cap. Yes, education is all about the students but without the parents we do not have the students.”

Gonzales predicted that as a result of the graduation ceremony, Vanguard will have picked up 20 future parent ambassadors. 

“We keep building upon this and letting parents know we want you involved and we are going to give you the tools to help your family develop a college-going culture. It is not just about the dreams of the students. It is the dreams for themselves.”

Asked if adults who have no direct tie-up to Vanguard can participate, Gonzales said: “We have parents who ask, I have an aunt, I have sister, can they participate? Absolutely, that is our Vanguard family, they are part of our community. For us it is really about helping others and Dr. Garcia would not have it any other way. He is very much about the community.”

Dr. Garcia is Narciso Garcia, superintendent of Vanguard. He was unable to attend the adult graduation ceremony.

“You do not have to market this program, the parents do it for you. The success we are having tells you a lot about the tenacity of our parents. When we sat down and started thinking about a college-going culture, we said, it is not only about the kids. We have parents that have never finished high school that we need to help.”

Gonzales said a shout-out needs to go to Ana Cardona, Vanguard’s GEAR UP parent and financial literacy advocate. “I give her this idea and she ran with it. Kudos to Ms. Cardona. I am lucky to be surrounded by great people.”

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