Engaging Parents to Inspire Students: Early College District Sends Parents Back to School

Published oct. 06, 2014

Success Stories: Parents Gain Skills, Find Work to Support Their Families

After just one year, lives have been transformed, Benford says. A single mother of six children, who depended on government assistance for years, earned a welding certificate, found a job as an assistant welder, and is now off government support. Another student, a migrant worker new to the community, thought she was destined to a life of fieldwork. Staff encouraged her to take courses in sewing and cake decorating and she now runs a successful home business doing both. A third mother completed the ESL class, earned a GED, became certified as a nursing assistant, and is now gainfully employed and supporting her children for the first time. 

Parents do not pay for the courses, but they are required to complete 10 hours of community service, ideally at their child’s school. Last year, they volunteered more than 103,000 hours. “They beautified the school grounds, made garments for a women’s shelter, and washed police cars,” says Benford. “It reinforced the idea of responsibility.” 

Rubinia Cavazos Leal, whose eldest daughter began South Texas College this year with enough credits from PSJA Southwest Early College High School to qualify as a junior, credits the parent engagement program with doing much more than improving her English. It has also enabled her to model for her children the importance of giving back: she is a computer instructor at the Napper center, where now she teaches other parents basic skills like emailing, writing letters, and navigating the Internet. 

It’s a message her daughter, also named Rubinia, has received loud and clear. “I really like that she has gotten so involved with the schools,” she says. “And I’m involved too—tutoring kids and mentoring them to help them get into college.”


Special thanks to the Leal family; Olivia Benford, Rodney Garza, and Danny King of PSJA; and Vicki Ritterband for her reporting and editorial support.

Photographs courtesy Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District