Rene Vela will be the first in his family to graduate from high school.
“To me it’s important because I am taking a big step for my family, and also I am setting a goal for my little brother and little sister so they can hopefully continue in my footsteps,” he says.
Vela’s father only made it to 11th grade and his mother only went as far as the sixth grade.
Not having a high school degree isn’t uncommon among Hispanic families along the border.
“Here in the Valley we have a lot of families who are also new to this country, so often it’s the first generation to be graduating here in the United States or the first one to be graduating at all,” says Dr. Daniel King, superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district in Texas.
Fortunately, graduation numbers are on the rise.
Nationally, graduation rates have reached their highest in 40 years, with over 3.1 million students graduating in 2010.
“And we have seen dramatic improvement – in graduation rates and a decrease in dropout rates. Really today, for the first time, graduation rates here in the Valley are really right at the state average,” says Dr. King.
The school district raised their practically failing graduation rate of 62.4 percent in 2007 to over 87 percent by 2011.