4-H Family Nights in Bexar County encourage at-risk minorities toward higher education

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Dr. Melinda Garcia, 210-631-0400, Melinda.garcia@ag.tamu.edu

SAN ANTONIO – For the past three years, family night events presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have inspired been inspiring at-risk minority students to remain in school and go to college.

These family nights are presented through AgriLife Extension 4-H programs in Bexar County and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  They are implemented in collaboration with other educational institutions.

Juntos 4-H Family Night at Leal Middle School in San Antonio. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“We present these family nights under the auspices of the Knights 4-H program at St. John Berchmans Catholic School and the Juntos 4-H program, which reaches students at both Leal Middle School and Harlandale High School in San Antonio,” said Dr. Melinda Garcia, AgriLife Extension program coordinator, Bexar County.

4-H Family Night is supported by a grant from the Children, Youth and Families At-Risk, or CYFAR, program and in-kind support is provided for Juntos 4-H through New York Life and National 4-H.

Garcia said family nights often feature minority guest speakers and attendees teaching at area colleges and universities to show students and their parents examples of how people with similar backgrounds have achieved academic success.

“The primary purpose of 4-H Family Night is to highlight the importance of higher education and demonstrate to minority students from low-income and resource-limited areas that it’s   possible for them to pursue higher education,” she said. “And our connection with AgriLife Extension’s Better Living for Texans also gives us the opportunity to present a food  demonstration to promote healthy eating since nutrition is also an objective of the grant.”

Garcia said 4-H Family Night is held each spring and fall at all three of the schools.

“Typically, we have anywhere from 100-150 students, parents, teachers and other interested individuals attend these programs,” she said. “They’re a great opportunity for the parents to get involved and for us to emphasize how important higher education will be to the future success of their children.”

(L to R): Drs. Melinda Garcia, Dianna Carmenaty and Patsy Torres spoke at the event. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

At a recent 4-H Family Night at St. John Berchmans, the special guest speaker was Dr. Patsy Torres, a popular San Antonio-based Tejano artist with a Ph.D. in education and organizational leadership from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Torres was one of three minority women who spoke at the program about their journey toward earning a doctorate. Each wore their graduation regalia at the program to literally show students what can be achieved.

Torres, who calls herself an “edu-tainer,” spoke about her educational sojourn and gave attendees a presentation combining educational themes with music.

“I grew up in a family where we weren’t encouraged to pursue higher education,” she told attendees. “But I knew education was the key to success so I went to college and got my bachelor’s degree, then my master’s degree and Ph.D. It took a long time, but it was worth it.”

Torres said while her family and friends didn’t directly encourage her to complete her education, they all attended her graduation and expressed pride in her accomplishment.

“Cultural challenges and financial challenges are a few of the biggest impediments to minorities getting a college education,” said Dr. Dianna Carmenaty, professor of criminality and criminal justice at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. Carmenaty was another of the minority women who spoke at the recent program.

“The 4-H program emphasizes education and it’s important to plant the seeds of education early on,” she said. “We need to show minorities they can overcome these challenges and that their academic goals are attainable.”

Carmenaty, who was also among the first minority women on the San Antonio police force as she pursued her education, said there is an inverse proportion between education and the risk for criminality.

“Statistics show students who drop out without getting a basic education are at higher risk for criminality,” she said. “The better the education, the greater the chance of financial success and self-sustainability, so the lower the chance of criminality.”

Attendees at the 4-H Family Night at St. John Berchmans Catholic School. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

Carmenaty also noted students in the Juntos 4-H program and Knights 4-H program participate in the Summer Leadership Academy at Our Lady of the Lake University, where they spend a week on campus getting firsthand experience of college life.

“We were also gratified that Cynthia Luna, who is the associate superintendent of the 43 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, was in attendance so she could see what we are trying to accomplish with these programs as SJB is becoming a model school for 4-H best practices,” Garcia said.

Roxanne Toscano, manager of the 4-H Knights club who helped coordinate the event also has two sets of twins attending St. John Berchmans.

“These programs are a great way to show our children that we as parents care about their well-being,” she said. “4-H is a community of young people that helps young people grow and helps us to grow as a family and part of a wider community.”

Dr. Manuel Piña, Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate professor in agricultural leadership, education and communication, College Station, was another speaker at the recent program and has been involved in efforts to promote higher education through the Knights 4-H and Juntos 4-H programs.

“Many of the students involved in these programs have had the opportunity to actually visit college campuses,” Piña said. “This gives them a chance to see what it would be like to go to classes on a college campus and to get familiar with the environment.”

Juntos 4-H members participating in another activity related to higher education — the week-long 4-H Leadership Academy  held at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Over the past three years, students in the programs have visited Texas A&M University campuses in College Station, San Antonio and Galveston; University of Texas campuses in Austin and San Antonio; Our Lady of the Lake University; St. Mary’s University; and the University of the Incarnate Word.

“These minority students are the kinds of students we are trying to get interested in higher education,” Piña said. “Presenting these family nights gives us the opportunity to emphasize the importance of parents being leaders who can guide their children toward higher education. It also  lets us show students how they can be leaders by motivating themselves and others.”

Nora Garcia, principal at St. John Berchmans, also noted the importance of parental involvement in youth education.

“Children really need their parents to support them in reaching their academic goals,” she said. “And it’s good that 4-H encourages parent-student communication and emphasizes education. Students have to keep up their grades to participate in 4-H activities, and that motivates them to study and take their schoolwork seriously.”

Garcia said she has been encouraged by the enthusiasm many of her students have shown toward continuing their education.

“I’ve had students come and tell me they are looking forward to going to college and even saying they plan on getting a master’s degree,” she said. “It’s nice to hear them speak so positively about their desire for academic achievement.”



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