Roy de Leon doesn’t hide the fact that up until 2010 his life was going nowhere.

Following his decision to drop out of high school, four credits shy of graduation, in 2006, he became a teenage father and then began a struggle through endless work shifts trying to support his family. De Leon says he has experienced the most difficult parts of life, but ECISD’s new Vision Academy program has “opened his eyes to a new future.”

“I worked 12 hours a day, broke my back and put sweat on my forehead, but I understood the struggles so I had to come back,” he said. “I saw that any man can do that rough work, but to be a successful man I needed an education, and that’s why I came back.

“I had another chance, and I thank Vision Academy for it,” de Leon said.

ECISD administrators celebrated its first graduating class for its Vision Academy on Thursday May 27 at Edinburg’s Auditorium. Justice Dori Contreras-Garza, of the 13th Court of Appeals, addressed 42 graduates telling them the importance of “never giving up” as they pursue their career goals.

The Vision Academy is the brainchild of superintendent Rene Gutierrez, who created the academy as an alternative campus better suited for students who fallen behind seeking their GED or diploma.

The goal of the Academy is to help all students master the competencies that have prevented them from being able to graduate from high school and in some cases dropping out of school. Dropouts in the ECISD include students who have not met the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) standard, or who do not have enough credits to graduate

The Academy occupies five portable buildings and two office spaces previously used by the Technology Department and the Parental Involvement Office adjacent to the old Sam Houston Elementary campus.

“A lot of these students have been through a life of hard knocks. Now they realize it’s not worth it, working at the burger place or the chicken place. They know they need a high school diploma, and when they get here they realize they can go even further, even on to a post-secondary education,” said Vision Academy English teacher Belinda Martinez.

“Not only are we helping students, we are helping their whole family. Many times, they’re the first ones to graduate and they’re giving hope to their younger siblings,” Martinez said.

Other teachers said the smaller classes enable a closer, and more personal approach to helping students. The program makes students better prepared to go to a university.

“You got to know them not only through their education, but through their personal lives,” said Aaron Villarreal, a math teacher at Vision. “They have matured, and it has been a pleasure working with them.

It has been night and day working with these students compared with regular high school students. They come back maybe with experiences of life’s drawbacks and come back with more motivation,” Villarreal said. “They’re easier to work with, they have seen the real world and they come back more determined.

De Leon said he plans to become a pilot, and plans on attending either STC or UTPA in the fall.

“It was a huge experience because we all had different struggles, and different points of life. But we all wanted something, and we achieved it by standing up and knowing what the struggle of life was before we started,” de Leon said. “Now, I think it’s just a big part of life knowing that we have a sense of direction towards success.”