Connecting to success: How schools are getting kids back into the classroom

HARLINGEN — “C’mon, wake up,” her grandmother said excitedly.

Rosalinda Torres was sound asleep on a recent Saturday morning when volunteers from the Harlingen school district showed up at her home. Administrators, counselors and other Harlingen school district personnel were taking their annual “Connect to Success” walk.

Rosalinda, 18, lacked only a few credits to earn her diploma, they told her. She and her grandmother went to register for school that same day.

“Ever since I got out, I wanted to come back,” said Rosalinda, who’d been a senior at Harlingen High School when she left in October 2015.

Connect to Success, also known as the Optional Flexible School Day Program, is funded by the Texas Education Agency. The program is crucial for some students who otherwise wouldn’t earn their diplomas and thus have limited employment opportunities.

This is the sixth year the Harlingen school district has had the program.

It includes a walk each September. Volunteers knock on the doors of students who need just that extra nudge of motivation, that final espresso shot to light the fuse. Yet this espresso shot comes in the form of an encouraging word from a principal, a teacher, a school board member.

Volunteers explained how students could finish up at the Connect to Success Credit Recovery Lab at KEYS Academy, 2809 N. Seventh St. They explained how many credit hours and exams they needed and they could come to the lab Monday to Thursday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

“It’s an opportunity for us to go into the community,” said Jose Luis Cavazos, director of the district’s parental involvement/dropout prevention program.

“Just getting somebody to come out and tell them, ‘You know, you are so close to graduating, just come back to school,’ makes a difference.”

The walk this year included 46 administrators, teachers, counselors and school board members.

Cavazos said the walk was a big success, with 14 students agreeing to come back to school.

“Most of them are very close to graduating,” he said.

“We are here for them. They are young. They don’t always see the impact of a high school diploma.”

Juan Hernandez, 19, is also finishing high school. He’d just returned from a construction job in Florida when the district knocked on his door.

“I was so excited,” said Juan, who left Harlingen High School South about 18 months ago to support his daughter.

“I have just been working and working and working,” he said.

When he learned he was going to be a father, he began working late and attending school the next morning. However, he was coming to class exhausted and falling asleep. He came in later, and later, and later, and finally quit going altogether. He was only a hair away from graduating — just 1 1/2 credits — and he’d already passed his final exams.

He’s now finishing his requirements for economics, government and English, which should take only a few months. He knows what he wants to do afterwards.

“I was introduced to welding in Florida,” he said, referring to a welder who’d told him about the profession.

“It’s better than $17 an hour,” he said.

It’s an advanced skill and he’ll need to attend a trade school, but in order to enroll he needs a … what?


“Without a diploma, you are nothing,” Juan said.

He and the other students plan on becoming “something.”

Rosalinda and her boyfriend are expecting a baby in a few months. He’s very supportive of her plans to graduate and to become a registered nurse.