Spotlight Series: Sarah Villalobos, Communities In Schools

February 3, 2022

Marketing and Strategic Communications

After high school, Sarah Villalobos thought college was something unattainable. Life had pushed her to grow up quickly. Her parents split up when she was in elementary, so she learned to pitch in and help her mom around the house at a young age. She also married soon after graduating high school.

“It was easier to just get a job after high school because going to college is expensive if you don’t have the right resources,” said Villalobos. “I decided to take a year off. I worked my IHOP job or McDonald’s job; that’s how I was able to afford an apartment.”

One year off turned into two, and while she’d think of the possibility of returning to school, there was always something in the way – missing the registration deadline, not having enough money, or fear of failing.

Now and then, Villalobos would receive text messages on her phone asking if she planned on attending college.


“I don’t even know how they got my number, but the messages would say, ‘Are you considering going to go back to school?’” said Villalobos. “We were barely making ends meet, but I finally decided I’d talk to someone. My brother had been hesitant to start school until my dad took him to enroll. Maybe that can be for me too; maybe there’s some money somewhere.”

It was too late to enroll for fall, but she would start at Palo Alto College in the spring.

Overcoming barriers to learning

Her first semester got off to a shaky start, having taken in a relative to live with her and then having her power shut off around that same time.

“The day before I started school, the power went out,” said Villalobos. “I remembered hearing something about utility help [through emergency aid], but it’s a one-time thing. Little did I know that Communities In Schools not only helps with supplies, but they also help with anything you need.”

During a campus tour, Villalobos had learned about Communities In Schools – San Antonio (CIS-SA). She decided she’d stop by their on-campus office in the Palomino Center. That’s when she met Leslie Fink, a transition coordinator for CIS-SA. In her role, Fink helps provide an extra layer of support so students can persist and complete their college degrees.

“We know that all students have barriers and face challenges. Getting to the point where a student can open up and talk about the things they are facing can be scary; it’s personal. To be able to say, I don’t know where to go or what to do,” said Fink. “We [CIS-SA] provide a hub of information so students know where they can find the support they need.”

Communities In Schools at Palo Alto College provides students with presentations from community partners, mentoring, FAFSA assistance, scholarships, school supplies, resources to address students’ basic needs, and more.

Fink guided Villalobos through all facets of support available at PAC as well as in the community.

“She was like my second mom,” said Villalobos. “She kept checking up on me, and I just felt like I could tell her anything. Things got better.”

Thinking back, Villalobos wondered why she hesitated to start college because, for each obstacle she encountered, there was a response.

“I don’t know why I took a year off; this was an easy transition. All my worries about food. Well, there’s a food pantry on campus,” said Villalobos. “In the Teacher Education program, I had to dress professionally to visit schools. Well, there’s a clothes closet filled with professional attire. If I had an exam, Communities In Schools provided blue books, or I could pick them up in the Welcome Center for free.”

With Fink’s guidance and the support of the many resources available at the College through the S.H.A.R.E. Center, Villalobos was able to focus on her education and graduated from PAC in May 2021. She is now in her second semester at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

“Without the resources, I don’t know where I would be. I thank PAC and Communities In Schools so much. If I can give back someday, I will,” said Villalobos. “I hope to be one of those teachers that when my students grow up and look back and say there was that one teacher, Mrs. Villalobos, who was always around to give me a push.”

PAC-SCS-932x621-Villalobos-CIS.pngSarah Villalobos, 2021 PAC graduate and Leslie Fink, transition coordinator for CIS-SA

Once she graduates with her bachelor’s degree, Villalobos hopes to go back and teach at her elementary school – Stonewall-Flanders Elementary.

“Sarah is a rock star. She’s overcome all these obstacles,” said Fink. “There’s a story behind every student. It’s not just, ta-da, I’m in college and everything is easy. Just having an extra layer of support and somebody on your side helps.”

Expanding outreach through collaboration

Palo Alto College and Communities In Schools of San Antonio are announcing a new partnership in hopes of reaching more students like Villalobos who have either put off college or have stopped attending college due to a myriad of obstacles, including pandemic-related challenges.

Based on Communities In Schools’ success with re-engaging K-12 students who stopped attending or inconsistently attended class during the shift to remote learning, the Re-Engagement Partnership seeks to reconnect with students on a one-to-one basis both virtually and via home visits. Through this outreach, the team will provide resources to students seeking to enter college for the first time or reconnect with students who may have “stopped out” due to the pandemic, loss of income, or challenges with technology.

Palo Alto College and Communities In Schools of San Antonio will formalize this first-of-its-kind partnership during a press event to be held in Spring 2022.

Students who need support can visit the CIS-SA on-campus office in the Palomino Center, room 104, or contact Leslie Fink via email at or phone at 210-895-2523. The S.H.A.R.E. Center offers many on-campus resources to help address out-of-school factors that affect students’ success in college. To learn, visit