When Ralph Pérez, relocated from North Carolina to Laredo with his family, he became curious about how local schools were operated and about student-teacher interaction.
With 24 years of experience in the U.S. Army and as a father of six children, Pérez also knew he had something to contribute to education in his community.
That is why Pérez, director of support services at Mercy Health Center, did not hesitate to volunteer to become a mentor for Clark Middle School students when he was recently approached by Junior Achievement and the Texas A&M International University GEAR UP program to participate in a mentorship program.
"My wife had done something similar in the past through her company as a community service and I'd always hear about it. I wanted to see what it was like and this is my first opportunity to do that," Pérez said.
The program, offered at Lamar, Clark and Memorial middle schools, aims to teach students practical business skills that will be useful when the time comes to finance their college education.
As a mentor, Pérez devotes three hours a week at Clark Middle School classrooms to teach students topics ranging from personal finance and international marketing to social studies and career awareness.
Pérez said that whenever he talks to students, he tries to teach them that there are numerous career options in life.
"I tell them that there are many options and that they do not have to worry or stress out. I ask them what it is that they want to do in life," he said.
Pérez said he is also providing students an example by showing them the importance of giving back to their community.
"I think these kids also need to know it's not just about money. Whether it means giving up your lunch hour or giving yourself, they have a responsibility to volunteer. It's about sharing what you've learned," he explained.
Beatríz Salinas-Riojas, GEAR UP director, said the mentorship program started this spring and that Junior Achievement is searching for additional volunteers.
The federally funded GEAR UP program is designed to prepare economically disadvantaged students to enter college and to be successful. The local program is housed within TAMIU's Office of Special Programs.
In addition, the GEAR UP "Creating a Vision Program" sponsors teacher training and provides the schools with graphic calculators and educational software that promote skills in mathematics and language arts.
For further information on the GEAR UP "Creating A Vision" activities, please contact Beatríz Salinas-Riojas at 326-2766, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit offices located in the Student Center, 126D. University office hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.