There are many lessons students learn at Hinojosa EC/Pre-K Center every year. One of the most important is to dream big. From A, B, Cs to 1, 2, 3s, the preschoolers are building a strong foundation for future learning as well as aspiring to attend college.
Each year, the campus hosts College Spirit Days as well as College and Career Day events. Teachers also play an important role. They talk to parents about how they can support their children’s studies. Sandra Arredondo said staff members focus on inspiring the young students to go after their dreams. The campus also provides college-ready checklists. The lists help parents follow whether their children are on track in school. Arredondo serves as principal at the campus.
“We expose students and families to the possibility of college in these early years,” Arredondo said. “We are planting the seed about college attainment now. We focus on inspiring, informing, and motivating students to have goals and dreams. For many to fulfill their dreams, that means putting them on the path toward higher education. Parents also play a powerful role in helping their children find success.“
According to Arredondo, it is important to start encouraging children early during their preschool years. This a perfect age because the students haven’t made up their mind about what they can and cannot do. The goal is not to stress students out about college but rather to get them excited about their future.
Once students “graduate” from Hinojosa EC/Pre-K Center, they are not forgotten. The school is giving alumni a helping hand. Since 2011, the campus has been awarding $500 MacGrad Scholarships to alumni. Recipients must have begun their education at Hinojosa EC/PK Center. And they must be a graduating senior from MacArthur High School. The early education center began sponsoring the scholarships to help alumni with college costs. The 2015 recipients are the fifth cohort of students to receive scholarships.
Arredondo conceived the MacGrad Scholarship. She wanted to build on the college-going culture begun in 1997 by her predecessor and mentor Charlotte Benson.
“The campus opened in 1997,” said Arredondo. “From the beginning we saw the need to create a college-going culture. That meant starting a conversation early with both our students and their parents.
“We not only need students to see college as a possibility but we also need parents to support the college-going culture at home too. If the children succeed, then their families succeed and the community succeeds. We tell the students to dream big. And many stay on course and are heading to college. The scholarships add to what we established. They are meant to give our alumni a hand with college costs. “
“Starting in early childhood, we are setting the foundations,” said Arredondo. “Educators here and in the upper grades are teaching students study habits, higher-order thinking and the importance of lifelong learning. If students don’t pursue a four-year degree, they can obtain an associate degree or technical certificate to earn a good living. We stress to parents that skills their children learn in school will benefit them throughout their careers and life.”
A part of the college education discussion includes resources. Mayra García shared that educators talk with parents and students about ways to pay for college. García serves as a bilingual teacher at the campus and is a scholarship committee member.
“Most of our students are from low-income families,” García said. “We know they need information and resources to help them pay for college. We direct most of this part of the conversation to the parents. We tell them about resources to pay for college. And we inform them about the MacGrad Scholarships that help pay for tuition and fees.
“We want parents to see college as a possibility for their children. The goal is to help them start to plan and to nurture students’ confidence about college.“
To raise funds for the scholarships, the young Hinojosa students and their families take part in the Coins for College Program. Twice a year students bring coins from their home. Maricela Moreno came up with the fund-raiser idea two years ago after seeing the support parents provided to a family in need. Moreno is a bilingual teacher at the campus. She knows the area well. She is a graduate of MacArthur High School.
“Our parents have been so supportive of this program,” said Moreno. “All the children receive a baggie to put their coins in and sometimes students bring in one-dollar, five-dollar and $10-dollar bills. The loose change and bills students bring in add up pretty quickly. It just goes to show that our parents support the program and the college-going culture. This past school year we had nearly 600 four- and five-year-olds who took part in the fundraising efforts.“
Typically, the campus awards six $500 scholarships each year. But in the 2014-2015 school year, Hinojosa students and their families collected nearly $2,000. The Hinojosa PTA matched that amount. The funds raised meant seven graduating seniors received $500 MacGrad Scholarships. Arredondo was also able to extend the scholarship program to include one college graduate. The extra funds permitted the campus to award an alumna from the first Class of 1997. Arredondo hopes the funds help ‘jump start’ the recipient’s career.
“It is our way to remind alumni that we remember them and wish them well,” said Arredondo. “I hope as they find success that they will pay it forward to help others in the Aldine community.”
Damaris Palacios was the lucky college graduate. The Hinojosa alumna formed part of the Class of 2015 at Texas-A&M University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in food science and technology. She traveled to Turkey in May as part of a project for college. Damaris also completed a month-long internship at the H-E-B corporate offices in San Antonio. She hopes to live and work in the Houston area.
“Damaris is a great role model for students,” said Arredondo. “Like Damaris, we want each one of our students to reach their dreams. Damaris is definitely paying it forward by acting as a Hinojosa Ambassador. She will speak to our parents at the first PTA meeting and during our fall Open House event in October.”
2015 Scholarship Recipients
TimkenSteel Scholarship Recipients
Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA Summer Camp Scholarship
Campus leaders also work with business partners and community organizations. Local business partner TimkenSteel provided money for two $2,500 scholarships. Recipients of the TimkenSteel Scholarships must be graduating seniors from MacArthur High School to qualify. The 2015 recipients are both pursuing careers in engineering.
“I praise TimkenSteel for supporting our students,” said Arredondo. “They provided a total of $5,000 in scholarship funds. TimkenSteel supports developing talent in STEM fields. The TimkenSteel scholarships are not only helping our students afford college but they are also helping make students’ dreams a reality.“
For the second year in a row, the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA sponsored a summer camp scholarship. The 2015 recipient is Alicia Zúñiga. She will be a sophomore at MacArthur High School during the 2015-2016 school year. She attended the YMCA Camp Cullen in late June. Recipients of the camp scholarship must be alumni of Hinojosa EC/Pre-K Center. They must also be freshmen students at MacArthur Ninth Grade School to apply.
“This scholarship enables the recipient to travel and experience what it is like to attend a camp,” Arredondo said. “Alicia was able to meet other teenagers from all over the state. She also got to enjoy camp activities that develop lifelong skills thanks to our local YMCA.”
The early childhood campus held a scholarship ceremony in late May. Claudia Sánchez, an associate community director at the YMCA, as well as managers Greg Baylis and Eric Walsky of TimkenSteel were also present.
“We are extremely grateful to our parents, business partners and local community organizations,” said Arredondo. “They have made the program a success. They support the college-going culture we have developed and they support our students. We hope the scholarship program continues to grow to help more Hinojosa alumni in the future. I dream that our students will have successful lives and fulfill all their dreams.“
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