Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2016 •

Brandon Márquez carrying an environmental justice banner in the annual Dia del Niño parade through the colonias in the South Tower area of South Texas. Photo courtesy of ARISE

A group of about 20 student leaders from the community-based ARISE Las Milpas center have been asking some key questions: Why can’t I take advanced math courses even if I already have taken the minimum required for graduation? What does it cost to attend an out-of-state college? Where are the resources for financial aid? How can we help our parents know about these things?

Carla Judith Reyna, a young adult and coordinator of youth activities at ARISE Las Milpas, has supported this group of middle school and high school students with planning, carrying out activities and recruiting persons who can be resources to them. A sophomore in college, Carla interrupted her college studies to spend a year supporting these activities.

Some of the resource people she recruited were students from their neighborhoods who had college experience. Pedro Nepomuceno (whom IDRA highlighted in our November-December 2015 issue) spoke to the students about the college experience. He has a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and is currently in nursing school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.

The youth leaders come from neighborhoods that have had little if any support in the past for these efforts. The students are breaking ground, ascribing to the #AllMeansAll hashtag. They agree with the goals set by their innovative school district that every high school graduate will already have earned college credit hours while still in high school. Some plan to graduate with an associate’s degree from the local community college.

One of the students, Brandon Márquez, is a sophomore at an early college high school, where he is currently taking a full load in high school along with some dual credit college courses. His Algebra II and World Geography classes are taught in Spanish.  His mother co-founded the ARISE Cesar Chavez Comunitario PTA. Brandon began his volunteer work with ARISE in his colonia of Las Milpas when he was 11 years old and had just completed fifth grade.

He and his friends mentored first and second graders. They led reading activities, crafts like making bracelets, and physical games. He considers working with young children and peers an important part of leadership.

Brandon also has served as part of the youth team at his ARISE Las Milpas Center. A few years ago, his team chose to make college preparation a priority. All year, they participated in workshops and retreats to learn more. They organized and co-led meetings where counselors and college students were invited to speak to them and to other members of the community. That year culminated with a field trip to a college campus, where their guides were part of the group of college students who had adopted them as college mentors.

Brandon and his friends are active at their ARISE community center, which is located in a barrio with serious economic challenges but with an abundance of human resources and energy. They volunteer to help older folk, do area clean-up and get involved with the activities planned by the Comunitario PTA. Last year, the Comunitario PTA worked with others in the community, including the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, to conduct a survey in their neighborhoods to find out what families knew about graduation requirements and preparation for college. (See Bahena, 2015)

Carla Judith Reyna presenting at a college access workshop for the ARISE Las Milpas Center youth and families. Photo courtesy of ARISE.

As a follow-up to the survey, Brandon and his peers participated in a Saturday event where students presented to the families about several key educational issues related to high school graduation and college entrance. The students and families were presenters in sessions about dual credit classes and why these were significant; full biliteracy that results in biliteracy honors at graduation; dropout recovery that leads to college enrollment and success; and adult education that is giving their parents opportunities to learn English and continue their education.

Brandon Marquez with his peers discussing information about college registration processes and financial aid. Photo courtesy of ARISE.

Students were the emcees, presenters, guides and participants at this Mini Mesa Comunitaria. Adults helped with planning and preparation, and the students shone as leaders with great verve and assertiveness. Many had never presented at a conference like this, much less to adults. The student voice was powerful, informative, moving and highly motivating to all who attended.

The environment of service and community spirit that ARISE engenders clearly shows in both Carla and Brandon. They are challenging counselors and others who attempt to dissuade their peers from taking advanced courses in math and science. These youth are challenging the stereotypes of their neighborhoods and peers, saying instead, “Yes, we are college material. Yes, we can excel in difficult courses. No, we do not wish to take the easier routes much less drop out.” In doing so, they are serving their vision to earn college degrees and make their families “very proud of our accomplishments.”

From field trips to colleges, to having high school and college counselors give them tips and support, these young people are demonstrating leadership for college preparation and admission.


Bahena, S. “‘Our children could get lost’ – Rio Grande Valley Parents Gather to Discuss Policy Implications,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2015).

IDRA. “College Students Describe What a School’s College-Going Culture Really Means,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2015).

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate at IDRA. Comments and questions can be directed to him via email at

See the Equal Voice RGV HB5 Community Survey Infographic (bilingual)

See our student interviews, “College Students Describe What a School’s College-Going Culture Really Means”

[©2016, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2016 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]