When Valeria Marines first immigrated to San Antonio in 2015 from Monterrey, Mexico, with her mother, they weren’t sure how they were going to enter the education system.

“I didn’t speak any English,” Marines said.

Luckily, she saw a story on the local Univision channel about Restore Education, a GED and certificate training program that offers English as a second language courses.

“The next day we enrolled and they started helping me right away,” she said.

The programming that Restore Education offers goes beyond test-taking and financial aid by introducing students to academic culture and the rigors of college, said Executive Director Kelli Rhodes. “They may not have that experience and that network in their family.”

Restore Education was founded in 2008 by Rhodes’ father, John, under the Christian Fellowship of San Antonio as a high school dropout recovery program helping 16- to 25-year-old students get back to school or earn their high school equivalency (GED). Since then, it has expanded its programming to include college prep as well as job training and certification in more than 10 in-demand fields at no cost to students.

Funded largely by state and federal grants, Restore Education served 1,900 students last year and is on track to serve 2,500 this year, Rhodes said. “We’ve seen explosive demand – over 1,500 applications since July.”

Kelli Rhodes, executive director of Restore Education.
Kelli Rhodes, executive director of Restore Education. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The nonprofit recently settled into a new Center for Growth facility at 4205 San Pedro Ave. and operates several satellite sites with partners such as the SA Hope Center, the Neighborhood Place, and Good Samaritan Community Services.

In San Antonio, 18 percent of residents don’t have a high school education, compared with 12.7 percent nationally, according to the City’s 2019 Status of Poverty report. Those residents are “3.5 times more likely to live in poverty than those with a high school degree or higher educational attainment.” On average, they earn just $21,745 per year, according to information recently compiled by the City’s Economic Development Department.

Restore Education offers flexible GED course schedules – which now are conducted online – and relatively quick (3- to 6-month) certification programs to act as a gateway to college or other longer-term programs, Rhodes said. “A lot of individuals that we see are working multiple jobs just to pay the bills. So if we’re able to give them [training], then they can continue their education and work towards college while they have that one better-paying job.”

In November, San Antonio voters overwhelmingly approved a one-eighth-cent sales tax to fund workforce development programs aimed at helping the economy and residents recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The details of the four-year, $154 million SA Ready to Work initiative are still in development, but Rhodes hopes the City of San Antonio will include Restore.

“We’re kind of that first step [for students],” she said. “If we’re able to help them get those basic skills and that stability, then they’re going to be more likely to succeed in a longer-term programs like Project Quest or a two-year degree at [San Antonio College].”

Unlike the current Train for Jobs SA workforce development initiative, funded through the City’s federal coronavirus stimulus package, SA Ready to Work will include subsidies for two- and four-year degrees in addition to other job training and certifications.

Students at Restore Education's CNA (certified nursing assistant) program work in class.
Students at Restore Education’s certified nursing assistant program work in class. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

But there is still a place for GED programs in SA Ready to Work, said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

“I believe these will be a continuing, stark need for high school equivalency and certifications, even when we’re in the second phase of the effort,” Nirenberg said. “The strength of this approach is that it allows us to be flexible and to calibrate those paths for enrollees in accordance with the needs of the community and industries.”

City Council will review a preliminary implementation plan for SA Ready to Work on Wednesday.

Marines now is working on a third language, as she is enrolled with scholarships at San Antonio College for an associate degree in American Sign Language focused on Deaf support specialist careers. She’s poised to become the first in her family to complete a college degree.

“Restore has helped me with everything,” she said, from learning English to how to navigate scholarships and American classrooms.

“They have someone for every step I want to take,” she said. “I am where I am because of Restore.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org