‘The difference was . . . my mother never lost hope’

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Gloria G. Rodriguez grew up next to a housing project in San Antonio, Tex., became a teacher, and planned to become a principal—so she could work “to reform the system to help low-income Hispanic schoolchildren do better.” Instead, she founded—with a $100,000 corporate grant—one of the country’s first support programs for parents of young children, Avance Educational Programs for Parents and Children. (“Avance” is Spanish for “to advance.”) More than 20 years later, Avance has an impressive track record, with five sites in Texas and four more on the way. Here is Rodriguez’s story, in her own words.

As a bilingual teacher, I had been given a group of 1st-graders who had been erroneously labeled mentally retarded, or slow learners. But they were not slow learners. They were not proficient in English, nor Spanish. And they had come in with such limited experiences.

When I administered a survey, I found that their parents thought education was left to the schools. They loved their children, and they valued education. But when I asked them how far they thought their children were going to go in school, they said 7th grade. It was this statement that really provoked me to look for better solutions.

So I started reflecting on my past. I came from a very poor family. My father died when I was two, and left my mother a widow with five girls. She was a single parent with a 3rd-grade education. So she had many obstacles. Yet the difference between my mother and the mothers I was talking to is that my mother never lost hope. She believed with all her heart and soul that her children were going to make it in this world, and that was instilled in us.

But the reason my mother was able to do that is because she received support. When my grandmother died, my grandfather moved in, and he became my father. My uncle moved next door to us. We had the visiting nurses who came to the house in those days to help out. Whereas, the other parents did not receive this support. Sixty percent say they were experiencing depression. The majority were abused. If the parents were depressed, then they didn’t have the energy to interact with their children, to try to tell them that things can be better.

That’s really what made me realize what I needed to do. We needed to not only help the parents help their own children in getting them ready for school, but to support the parents. Avance was a reflection of my own childhood living outside that project.

A 1991 survey of the mothers who were in Avance’s first class found dramatic results. In 1973, 91 percent were high school dropouts. By 1991:

57 percent had returned to school or gotten G.E.D.s.

64 percent of those who completed high school or G.E.D.s had gone on to college or technical schools.

94 percent of these mothers’ children had completed high school, gotten G.E.D.s or were still in high school.

43 percent of the children who finished high school had gone on to college.

For more information, contact Avance Family Support & Education Program, 301 S. Frio, Suite 310, San Antonio, TX 78207. Phone (210) 270-4630.