AlamoHOPE helps student-parents overcome obstacles to graduation
July 13, 2023
Felix Carcamo's daughter is only four years old, but she already has something stashed away to help motivate her to get a college degree – the special stole Carcamo wore in May when he walked the commencement ceremony stage during his own graduation from San Antonio College.
Carcamo received the stole from AlamoHOPE, an Alamo Colleges District initiative that connects student-parents with advocacy programs, peer-to-peer mentoring, financial support, and other assistance to help them navigate their sometimes-circuitous educational paths.
Carcamo, 26, enrolled at SAC in 2020, but left the following year after enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. Following basic training, he returned to SAC and completed his degree requirements this spring.
"I'm very grateful for all of the people at SAC who have helped me achieve my goals." said Carcamo, who is heading to Texas State this fall to begin work on a degree in mechanical engineering. "I'm the first in my family to graduate with an associate degree and then move on from there to pursue a bachelor's degree."
Carcamo said the AlamoHOPE stole "is real neat."
"I have it here for my daughter so she can see it when she's older and can comprehend a little better," he said.
Derek Martinez, the district's coordinator of student success, said AlamoHOPE was designed to help student-parents "begin with the end in mind – graduation" with support that allows them to break barriers that might stand in their way. The word "HOPE" in AlamoHOPE stands for "helping others prosper through education." Martinez said that's a goal that could trigger a paradigm shift for parents and children with positive, long-term ramifications.
"The whole purpose of the AlamoHOPE stole is for it to be passed on from generation to generation," said Martinez, who designed the program. "As the parent is graduating, they're passing it down to their child and they're creating this new normal, this new life and new growth. To show that their child has a future as well in education."
AlamoHOPE launches the first step in that process by identifying student-parents who have stopped taking classes while remaining in good academic and financial standing. They are targeted with postcards, emails, and texts with reminders about the support available from the Alamo College District.
"There are a lot of students who are short maybe just a couple of college credit hours -- maybe like six hours or less – just to cross the stage and get their degree," Martinez said. "The postcards and the communication and the messaging in between kind of helps give them that nudge to come back to one of the colleges that they had started with."
Back on the five campuses in the Alamo Colleges District, AlamoHOPE provides a supportive and caring environment to help student-parents re-enroll and succeed. The AlamoHOPE stole is a symbol of their persistence, hard work, and success.
Monica Gutierrez, another recent recipient of the AlamoHOPE stole at SAC, had an educational path with several starts and stops.
A 1990 graduate of Fox Tech High School, Gutierrez got her associate degree in applied science from St. Philip's College and later enrolled at UTSA, where she hoped to study for a bachelor's degree in communications. She dropped out, however, after discovering that her associate degree didn't include most of the university's core class requirements.
The single mother of two returned to the classroom after she started working at Alamo Colleges in 2011.
"Just one class at a time because that's all I could afford," said Gutierrez, 51, who currently works at SAC's Scobee Education Center. "And that was all I had time for because of my kids."
This past semester, Gutierrez completed the last of her core classes and hopes to enroll again at UTSA. She's been so focused on her schoolwork, she hadn't realized her second associate degree would give her another chance to walk across SAC's graduation stage until a friend asked her about it.
"I had no intention of doing that," Gutierrez recalled. "But then I thought, 'Let me do this for my boys. I want them to watch me.' I don't ever want them to have the excuse, like 'I'm too old.' If I did it, you're gonna do it."
Gutierrez' youngest son, Jonah Aguilera, was in the audience for her graduation ceremony. Aguilera said his mother's success story – and the opportunity to wear her AlamoHOPE stole – has inspired him to get his own associate degree from SAC.
After getting his associate degree, the 21-year-old Aguilera plans to enroll at Texas State University and earn a bachelor's degree in tech theater.
Christina Cortez, the director of the Alamo College District Welcome Center & District-Wide Onboarding, said Gutierrez' graduation and Aguilera's academic plans are proof that education and support from programs like AlamoHOPE can create generational change.
“When you drop a pebble into a pond, you see a small, little ripple," Cortez said. "You don't see the tsunami that happens later because of that rock.
"We see that one student crossing the stage, but what we don't see is the kids of that student. The mindset being changed, the shaping of their minds, that education is power."