Catch the Next hosted a virtual gala celebrating the start of its 10th academic year on May 27th from 6-7 pm.

The gala began with a welcome from CTN CEO, Dr. Chavez. She shared the history of the organization and talked about the “heroes among us” especially those in the audience.

A slate of CTN peer mentors and advisory board members spoke next, beginning with Andrew Siceloff, son of CTN founder. He said, “John Siceloff loved helping empower communities with hands-on work rather than reporting on them, and seeing his legacy live on through CTN is the best gift a son can receive.” Author and Pulitzer Prize winner, Sonia Nazario spoke next and said “this program must grow” and then cited Latino educational statistics. She added, “My prayer is that CTN goes way beyond the state of Texas.” Ron Lippincott, former PBS VP, spoke about his friendship with John Siceloff, which began in high school, and the use of EnLearn, an innovative and dynamic mathematical diagnostic and learning platform, which CTN is using in the classroom at STC.   President of Excelencia in Education, Sarita Brown spoke about “why commitment and big ideas are how we make things happen for Latinos” and she said John Siceloff was “really smart in finding the right person who cared just as passionately as he did about serving Latino students, helping them go to college and making sure that we would work together to amplify the solutions that existed.  This person was Maria Chavez who said ‘I’m ready to rock the world and take this to Texas.’ Maria’s absolute steadfast readiness to say we are going to do this work together is what we’re celebrating 10 years in. Our students deserve this and so much more. Latino students’ success will make Texas better and will make the nation better,” she added.

Next Stacy introduced Dr. Rogelio Saenz, chairman of the CTN Board of Directors, who said that “CTN is doing transformational work right now. CTN has reversed the course that set up so many of our Texas students for failure by changing the playing field, changing the trajectory of our students, changing the “that’s the way things simply are” mentality to working with students in a caring, holistic manner. Put simply, Catch the Next changes the lives of our students, their families and their communities.”       

Then Allegra Villarreal, Director of Professional Development explained the CTN model which was followed by testimonials from students and campus/district administrators. These included Ascender student Fabiola who said, “The teachers in the program helped me to know that I have an identity. This program showed me that we are all different, but we all have the same value.”  Another student, Carmen, commented, “One amazing benefit has to be the mentor component of the program. Ascender has done an amazing job of pairing their students with mentors that are there to help guide them through their first-year college experience. My mentor has always been there to support me and give me advice.”

Daniel Montes, administrator from STC, commented, “I’ve been able to participate in some of the Ascender activities and what I find is that it’s really a family type environment; they’re very closely knit, and I wish that we could have that on a bigger scale.”

Dr. Michael Flores, Chancellor of Alamo Colleges, stated, “We are particularly proud of the relationship we have had with Catch the Next over the last decade. Catch the Next provides support for our students who need it the most while also providing the academic challenge that our faculty members and advisors give to each and every one of our students involved in a learning community that is supportive and affirming both academically and culturally.”

“Best wishes for many more years of promoting and celebrating student success in Texas,” said Dr. Charles Cook, Provost/ Executive VP for Academic Affairs at ACC.

Sophia Farias, who has just finished her first year at SAC, wrote and recited the poem, written specifically for Catch the Next, “Deep Breaths about COVID. It began “For too long we have lived within memory, reciting remembering whens” and ended with “soon the Renaissance of dancing and deep breaths…at last we have survived. We have a chance to be born again, to leave our caves, and touch fingers, hands… I am ready to thaw out my tomorrows.”

Dr. Rendon, CTN peer mentor and UTSA Professor Emerita, spoke next saying that “Catch the Next was a program rooted in civil rights, rooted in culture, rooted in familia, and rooted in carino.  CTN brings out the best, the brilliance of our students.” She continued, “Bien hecho. Well done, for uncovering the hidden aspects of our students, for working with the most vulnerable amongst us and transforming these students so that they can see the possibilities in their lives, so that they can believe that they too can succeed. What CTN has done is come up with a model of success that takes these students and transforms them into powerful learners where they began to believe that college is for them, that they can do this, that they have the ability to get to that finish line.”

She concluded by saying, “Well done, CTN for creating a new dream for low-income, first-generation students and never, ever, ever giving up on our students. I can’t wait for the next 10 years!  Thank you for everything you’ve done to harness our students’ talents and to help them believe in themselves.”

Instructors then spoke about the benefits of the Ascender program, both for students and themselves. Some of their comments include the following: “One of the big components of the CTN model is that students work in a cohort, so what they see in one class, they’ll see reflected in another class. I think the better connection they make between courses, the better they will do in their studies overall.”-Jorge Gomez, EPCC. “It has changed my teaching dramatically. I am now much less the center of the classroom. I have so many more active learning tools.” -Lydia CdeBaca Cruz, ACC. “In the professional development training, I have learned so much more about teaching than I have learned ever in my 20 plus years.”-Yolanda Reyna, PAC. “One thing I’ve noticed is that the students write a lot more; they get more engaged with their writing. They like the idea of finding their voice. They’re more interested because of the culturally relevant material incorporated into the assignment. Their discussions are more open, and they talk more during the discussion portion of the writing process.”-Antonio Garza, PAC. “The students are very motivated to learn. They have goals. Many of them really know what they want to do and they are really working towards achieving those goals.”-Anne Fletcher, ACC. “It has been proven many times that these students, with the right support available to them in this program, will be successful.”- Ali Esmaeli, STC.

Next Mike Guinn,  CTN Board Member and award-winning spoken word artist, spoke his poem created for the gala which began “Quote: what good is my Master’s degree if I can’t be the master of me?” and continued “Fact: Catch the Next’s mission is to empower students to catch college and career dreams, to provide inspiration and motivation that helps to propel them without hesitation and awaken young minds  to new and exciting possibilities… so they’re able to transcend their limitations and improve their situation…CTN gives them permission to rise above other people’s opinions and expectations… CTN empowers and transforms… it’s where dreams are born… this is more than just a moment; it’s a movement…with instructors who are factually and actually engaging them to be orchestrators of their own paths to success… Let’s continue to ascend from within…”

The gala ended with music provided by Mariachi Paredes, from the University of Texas at Austin.

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