A Texas tough teacher: The first step towards a bright future

The Texas Story Project.

Every year, an astonishingly low number of El Paso students are admitted to an Ivy League university, and even less actually end up enrolling.

An El Paso organization created by two local and passionate teachers aims to increase opportunities for El Paso area high school students. For this article, I interviewed one of those teachers, Mr. Luis Martinez, an educator, organizer, and friend. Martinez was born in El Paso, Texas and lived in subsidized housing apartments with his parents and two older sisters. His father was the only one who worked and supported the family on a low salary. Although Martinez and his family grew up not having much, he had a positive upbringing that reflects the work he dedicates himself to today.

The story of teachers and educators across this country is a story that we tend to overlook. We hear all the time that educators have the capability to create lawmakers, health professionals, business owners, innovators, and productive members of society. However, what we don’t know is the work that is associated with offering students a different perspective on life and the opportunities that exist outside of their comfort zone. Aside from being a college readiness and financial literacy teacher at Eastlake High School, Martinez is an entrepreneur, Co-founder, and Co-CEO of College Mindset Academy, a local El Paso organization that aims to offer post-secondary educational opportunities to El Paso area high school students by providing leadership training, college readiness education, and college tours of some of America’s best universities.

This journey of changing students’ lives began in 2014 with Martinez and fellow educator Daniel Valdez, a graduate from UT Austin and UT El Paso. Valdez has over 15 years of experience in the educational field and in 2013 he was a Business Cooperative Education Coordinator which established him as a community liaison that helped bridge the gap between education, business, and city government. For Martinez, ending up in education was no coincidence. He started his career working for the Ysleta Independent School District at the age of 15 as a tutor for a program called Youth Teaching Youth, an afterschool organization committed to helping young students excel in their educational career and also helped to keep them out of trouble. It’s actually quite inspirational to think that at 15 years old you’re helping students that live the same lives in the same neighborhoods but just have different stories. Martinez did try to tell himself that maybe education was not the career to pursue, so he decided to major in business, computer information systems, to be exact at the University of Texas at El Paso. However, little did he know that he would end up in a classroom teaching that same subject to high school students. Upon realizing that education was his destiny, Martinez knew that he didn’t want to take part in a system that cared more about numbers and test scores than the well-being of children. In an interview, Martinez stated, “I knew that my personal goal was to change lives and I care deeply about my students. Not just about teaching them a subject, it’s about more than that. So I expected it to be difficult but I knew that I would be happy making a difference.”

The education system isn’t perfect, and Mr. Martinez knew this. He believes that the system should shift its focus from numbers, statistics, and money to one that teaches soft skills, relationship skills, and academia to prepare students for life after high school. Although Martinez might not hold the legal power to change the system, educators like him and Valdez hold something much greater than that. They hold the key to unlock the greatest force in education—children’s ability to believe in themselves and in their purpose.

Today, College Mindset Academy has partnerships with 5 major El Paso school districts and the Diocese of El Paso to achieve great strides towards the vision of an education system that works for all. Since 2014 a total of 77 local El Paso high school students have participated in CMA’s annual East Coast Ivy League Summer College Tour and 44 of those students have all pursued, applied, and enrolled in a 4-year post-secondary institution whether it’s in El Paso, other parts of Texas, out of state, or Ivy League universities. However, it hasn’t always been an easy road for Valdez and Martinez. The fear of starting a new business and the lack of support from local organizations and leaders can be discouraging, but this was no obstacle for two Texas-tough teachers who were determined to change the perspective that many prestigious universities had on kids from the border. Martinez’ legacy won't be about the number of students he opened doors for, it’ll be about how he changed their lives and the type of impact they will have in our communities. In the interview, Martinez said, “I will never stop fighting for my people, and education is the most powerful weapon against ignorance and hate, and I will do all I can to make a change!” His mindset is not only beneficial to El Paso, Texas but to the world.

Today, Martinez has visited over 30 universities in 12 different states and was once named as one of the top 20 college counselors in the state of Texas by Texas A&M University. Above all major achievements, his work has made students the first in their families to go to college and it has changed the future of El Paso.

Manuel Rodriguez is a sophomore at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, he is a first-generation college student who left the comfort of his home to grasp a better understanding of opportunities outside of West Texas.

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