Updated: Dec 2, 2021
By Hermann Pereira
“Shoot for the moon, mijo,” my mother said to me when I was a child (a “mijo”). Born in Colombia, she had shot for the moon herself when she immigrated to Texas as an 18-year.old.
She and my father consistently opened doors of opportunity for their kids and encouraged us. They spent their lives giving my sister and me access to many things they did not have growing up. We were not rich by any means, but our family did not go without because of my parents’ blue collar work ethic; one they ingrained in me.
My parents made it possible for my sister and me to participate in and enjoy sports, music, clubs, and vacations. Most importantly, they gave us access to college. I didn't quite understand why college was so important, but I knew it was the expectation. Thanks to the environment my parents created, I was on the path to college.
When I completed my bachelor’s degree at Stephen F. Austin State University, my parents were so proud of the achievement, but I still wondered why it was a big deal. It dawned on me later that it was due to the lack of access they had in their lives. They did not have an opportunity to go to college, but they knew how a degree would change the trajectory of future generations.
Fast forward a bit and now I have a master’s degree and a better understanding of their sacrifice. I now know, also, what access means for future generations of Pereiras.
I was fortunate enough to have supportive parents who opened the doors for educational access, but not all students have those opportunities. When I look at educational data for our community I can see myself in it based on my experiences. As a high school teacher, coach, and principal for 15 years I witnessed these same paths in my students. I tried my best to channel the words and actions of my parents with my students.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board conducted a study where they followed an eighth-grade cohort through their graduation from high school and college. The results were eye opening. It showed that only 28% of McLennan County eighth graders completed a post-secondary credential (college or other credential) six years after high school graduation.
These numbers highlight the gaps that exist in our college and career pipelines.
How are we preparing our students for their futures?
What career opportunities are they exposed to?
What financial aid services are available for their schooling?
How do enrollment numbers look for students in our county?
How are students in our county persisting and are they completing their degrees?
The eighth-grade cohort study shows that 72% of our students did not have a solid plan for their futures. Are we as a community opening the doors for college access for all students, from all districts, from all neighborhoods? It's a tough question to ask but it's necessary to understand where we are doing well and where we have room to improve.
Our future workforce is sitting in classrooms today. Are we doing all we can to open their doors of access?
Our local school districts, higher education institutions, and community partners are working on opening access, but there is more work to be done. Prosper Waco is engaging in strategic conversations around the systems that are in place for improved college access in our community. In 2022, we plan to launch new projects and partnerships that will bring more access to students and their families who are the future of our community. Will you join us in this work?
I hope we can encourage today’s students to “shoot for the moon” and then to help them to do it.
You can join in this work; schools alone are ill-equipped for this task. I had parents encouraging me, but some of our students do not have such support. If you want to join this conversation, please feel free to reach out — firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hermann Pereira is chief program officer for Prosper Waco and leads our education and workforce efforts.