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20120131_STC_LJISD_CABLA JOYA — Speakers present at the South Texas College Teaching Center this week all agreed that even though it was cloudy and dreary outside, it was a sunny day for the La Joya Independent School District.

STC announced this week that they would be expanding their services at its La Joya Teaching Center. The expanded services will include more courses and offering these courses to not only students and employees, but to the community as well.

Officials said that the enrollment for the first semester at the campus is nearly 400. The number, now that full associate degree plans are available, can only grow, said STC officials.

STC recently received their full accreditation to allow the community to get their associates degree at what is currently the La Joya Teaching Center and Jimmy Carter Early College High School. Students already attending the early college high school (ECHS) will be able to earn their associate degree by the time they graduate from the high school as well as their high school diploma.

Dr. Shirley Reed, president of STC, congratulated the students in attendance that will be future graduates of STC and LJISD.

STC would not be able to offer classes in this part of the county if LJISD had not stepped forward to make the facility available to STC, said Reed. The STC staff also helped in figuring out how to make it possible, first by offering dual enrollment classes and then by getting full accreditation to expand the services offered.

Rose Benavidez, vice chair of STC board of trustees, said the students currently attending the ECHS are proof of the hard work the district and STC did to ensure their partnership.

With budget cuts, these types of initiatives would be harder to accomplish, said Benavidez.

“When 50 percent of your students aren’t completing high school and only 14 percent might graduate with an associate’s or bachelor’s, these types of initiatives are what give us promise that we’re all going to have a brighter future,” Benavidez said.

Getting a college education has always been about access, she explained. Every community should have the same opportunity, no matter where they are located, she added.

“It brings an ability of college readiness and awareness that for a long time has been absent in our area,” said Benavidez, adding it show how valuable education is and what the end result and success can be. “The ability to do that in your backyard, I don’t think you can beat that.”

Superintendent Dr. Alda T. Benavides said the district is applying for another ECHS and a T-Stem program, which concentrates on the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’re going to go for the whole thing,” she said. “It’s better to have tried and lost, than never try at all.”

Benavides said they are determined to succeed and provide more opportunities for the students that attend the district.

The school district has grown from having small dual enrollment program 10 years ago to what it is today.

Jimmy Carter ECHS Principal Sylvia Sepulveda said her goal is to make the students into believers.

“If they believe in themselves, increase their self-esteem, provide the academic and social support, they have no choice but to continue with their education,” said Sepulveda.

She said the students here will not only improve the quality of life through education, but also parents, cousins and others in the community will be able to come to this high school and take advantage of the college opportunity.

The district seeks to make the school a catalyst to transform the community into thinking about the value of higher education. The mentality is getting the community to think of LJISD as a pre-k through 16, rather than pre-k through 12, said Benavides.

“The only question would be is what are you going to study, not are you going to go to college,” Benavides said.

This way, students will start talking about college at an early age.

“With the college here within the district, I am hoping the conversation about college will start early on at home,” she said.

LJISD Board President Arnold Ochoa said the district is planting the seeds for a college going community and it can only grow from here.

“It’s a very bright future for all of us,” said Ochoa. “The seeds that we’re planting is the impact for tomorrow.”

He said he hopes more students decide to stay here and get their associate’s degree instead of moving away, bringing more job opportunities to the students of the district.

The partnership with STC is providing great opportunities to the district and the community, said Ochoa. The district is only providing the location where STC will be teaching college courses in the evening for community members.

Ochoa said he hopes the college will become a trend in the community. When one person goes to college, the next generation will want to as well, he said.

“(That) mind set, the way of thinking, it opens doors,” said Ochoa.

The ECHS program has already changed the mindset of current student Catalina Resendez.

Resendez, a sophomore at Jimmy Carter, said that achieving her associate’s degree by the time she graduates is encouraging.

Resendez said she wants to pursue her bachelor’s master’s and possibly a doctorate degree.

Sepulveda said the current students at the campus are role models, not only to other students in the district, but to their parents and other family members that may not have gone to college, or had not thought about going. She said the students come in with the mindset that they are going places sooner than they thought.

Reed agreed that students could pave the pathway to the community’s success.

“Going to college was beyond the realm for most families,” said Reed.

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