(HARLINGEN) – Juanita Salinas was looking for a better life when she decided to enroll at Texas State Technical College’s High School Equivalency Program (HEP), and last week she, and nearly 40 other students, earned a General Education Diploma (GED) during the program’s annual graduation ceremony.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time,” said the 38-year-old. “It feels really great to finally be a graduate and moving on to bigger and better things.”
The HEP program at TSTC is federally funded drop-out recovery program that provides services to eligible migrant and seasonal farm workers from the mid to the lower Rio Grande Valley and prepares students to successfully pass their GED along with support services such as academic and career advisement.
The Harlingen native, who used to work the strawberry fields of Mississippi with her family as a child, said after having a baby in high school at 15 she never thought this moment would come, much less be the class speaker.
As a teen mom Salinas to dropped out of school to work and support her daughter. She held various jobs in the fast food restaurant industry before holding a job as a cafeteria cook for the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District for 11 years.
Now, her eight children and her husband celebrate her as she addresses her class with encouragement and hope for the future.
“Education is life changing,” she told her peers. “Today shows us that nothing is impossible and if you want something you can get it.”
Salinas said she decided to finally take this step in life because she wants to be a positive role model for her daughter who also had a baby in high school.
“I pushed her and supported her to finish her high school diploma,” said Salinas. “And now I want to show her the importance of a college education and that no matter what she can get one.”
TSTC HEP Placement Officer Daisy Avalos said she is excited to see Salinas and the rest of her students complete the GED program.
“It’s amazing to watch all of them graduate,” said Avalos. “As for Juanita, it was great seeing her transition and working toward her goals. She was a true leader for her class and always encouraged others to do their best work and to volunteer.”
Avalos added, “I’m so proud of our students and the changes they’re making in their lives. They’re the ones working to break a cycle.”
The HEP program prepares GED students to test in the areas of math, science, history and English and gives students the opportunity to do community service.
Those completing the program also have the flexibility to work and go to class, allowing TSTC to serve more than 100 students per year since its inception 18 years ago, many of which return to TSTC to get a degree.
“We are very proud of our students. I admire their commitment not only to their families, but to their education,” said Toni Luna, TSTC HEP director. “Our students know the true meaning of hard work. It is because of them that our HEP program has been so successful.”
Salinas is now a student at TSTC pursuing an associate degree in Education and Training. Her goal is to become a special education teacher.
For more information about TSTC’s HEP program, call 956-364-4505 or visit tstc.edu/harlingenhep.