San Antonio Mayor and NLC Board Member Julián Castro entered the national spotlight with his highly anticipated keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night. While pundits assess the tone and framing of his speech, I find myself reflecting on how its core message of expanding opportunity for all residents is being fulfilled in the City of San Antonio.
Weaving in his personal story, Mayor Castro spoke of his upbringing and how it inspired his commitment to building a strong economy that supports good jobs and lasting security for all those who are willing to work hard. His grandmother, Victoria, an orphan who emigrated from Mexico at a young age, spent her life working hard as a maid, a cook and a babysitter to give her children a life of opportunity, Mayor Castro said.
Mayor Castro now lives these values through his duties as mayor, placing education at the top of his administration’s agenda. The staff of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families have been fortunate to work with the mayor and other San Antonio city leaders as they develop a stronger, cradle-to-career educational pipeline.
Pre-kindergarten programs and student loans are “a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow.” Mayor Castro said. “We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”
Look no further than his time as mayor to reveal that these words are more than rhetoric. Shortly upon his arrival in office in 2009, Mayor Castro instituted the Café College program, a one-stop college preparation and advising center. Beginning their efforts with middle school children, the center helps students create an educational road map and educates them about future financial aid possibilities. These early efforts help increase hope and create a college-going culture among younger students. As students continue through high school, Café College prepares them for standardized tests and advises them on their college application materials. Through checklists and other educational resources, Café College attempts to make high-quality college advising accessible to all students.
The initiative has been well received in the community and has engaged numerous local partners to make the program successful and sustainable. With the prominent leadership of Mayor Castro, Café College has gained the support of Texas College Advising Corps and Generation Texas, a nonprofit organization promoting college attendance and completion in Texas. Café College also works alongside another city-initiated program, Mentoring Matters, which facilitates mentoring relationships between local business partners and middle school students to foster college and career exploration.
At the younger end of the age spectrum, Mayor Castro was instrumental in the establishment of new Very Early Childhood Centers that bring together a wide range of vital services for young children ages 0-5 and their parents in two high-need neighborhoods. To ensure that more children read at grade level by the end of third grade, the city has also collaborated with local school districts and early education providers to improve Head Start programs, connect parents and other caregivers with resources and support, and invest in professional development for early childhood teachers.
Through efforts like these, Mayor Castro is bringing his community closer to the vision of his grandmother’s generation.
“In the end, the American dream is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay,” Castro said. “Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”