The All In for Students Awards honors the exemplary dedication of CIS staff, educators, community partners and our alumni, who go all in for students, empowering them to stay in school, graduate and go on to brighter futures.
Little boys often grow up wanting to be just like their dads, and Rey Saldaña was no exception. His father, Reynold, had left Mexico at the age of 18 with nothing but a backpack, looking for a better life in America. As an undocumented immigrant, Reynold took work wherever he could find it, including a slaughterhouse and various construction jobs. At the age of 4, Rey didn’t understand the stress of making ends meet or avoiding immigration officials. He just knew that it was fun to run around the house in his dad’s hardhat, until one day Reynold took it off the boy’s head for good.
“He said that I could wear a baseball cap or a graduation cap, but he didn’t want to see me wear a hard hat again,” Rey recalls his father saying regarding his son’s future. “He worked
terribly hard in places that he never wanted me to work in. With the necessity to work, neither my mother or father made it past middle school, limiting their own opportunities, but both of them shared the same values about the importance of education for their children. They wanted my brothers and sisters to have the chance to do better than they had.”
But for a low-income family in South San Antonio, “better” was a relative term.
“Where I grew up, most people thought of ‘real work’ as using your hands or straining your muscles,” Rey says. “The visions of success I saw when I looked around my community—a mechanic, a hospitality worker, a waitress at the restaurant down the street—were the expectations of work and success that you had to adapt to as an immigrant student or low- income student of color.”
So how did Rey Saldaña, by the age of 24, end up with three degrees from Stanford University and a seat on the San Antonio City Council? He credits Communities In Schools for helping him aspire to heights that his family never imagined possible.
As a sophomore at South San Antonio High School, Rey was introduced to Dafney Bell and Gladys Reyes through CIS, and it was these women who pushed him to aim higher than community college and manual labor.
“My parents gave me space to succeed in school, but they didn’t have the knowledge base to guide me to success on their own,” Rey says. While everything in his environment suggested that community college was his only option, it was the caring adults he met through CIS who pushed Rey to apply to “reach schools”, like Stanford, and to work toward possibilities that had, until then, seemed unattainable. “My ambitions would have been much more diminutive if I didn’t have them telling me that I could unlock a greater potential. For me, Ms. Bell and Ms. Reyes were like surrogate, middle-class parents who went to college and knew how to navigate the challenges of higher education.”
Looking back on his high school career, Rey knows he is “one of the lucky ones” because these two caring adults from CIS steered him toward greater things. “I know exactly what my
life would have been like without CIS, because I see it in friends who didn’t get these opportunities. CIS came along at just the right time for me. They taught me to believe in my own potential, and they blew open my horizons.”
Today, Rey remains a firm believer that Communities In Schools can throw open doors that may otherwise remain locked to low-income youths, who now comprise the majority of our public school students. He has formalized his support of CIS by chairing a newly-formed CIS National Alumni Leadership Network, which will provide leadership, training, and networking opportunities for the thousands of CIS alumni across the country.
- October 2015