Deborah Ferguson, NBC 5 News
New research may help explain why most Hispanic males in Texas aren't going to college. One young man, Paco Hernandez, shares his story of how he won't be part of that statistic.
Thousands of high school graduates all over Dallas-Fort Worth are getting ready for the next step. They smiled and cheered as they walked across the stage and got that hard-earned diploma. Parents cried to see their baby is growing up.
Paco Islas, 18, celebrated an accomplishment that seemed far away when he started at Arlington Heights High School in the Fort Worth ISD four years ago.
"I was on the wrong path, doing a lot of stuff I wasn't supposed to be doing," he told NBCDFW.
He admits he skipped a lot of classes the first two years. By his junior year, though, a girl he knew changed his course.
"I've been knowing here since 8th grade, best friends. I really wanted to talk to her so I followed her into that class," he recalled.
The class is called AVID. It stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, and it's goal is to help more students at 28 secondary campuses get into college.
"We provide support for those students," explained AHHS AVID instructor Jackie Trevino Garcia. "We help guide them through the college process from freshman year on."
When Islas got into that class his junior year, "that's when I thought I gotta get my life together."
And he did. Islas graduated June 3. He, his cousin and a friend want to move to Austin, go to community college for a year, then on to a business degree from Texas State in San Marcos. His parents prefer their only son start closer to home at Tarrant County College.
Either way, college is Islas' goal and he's thankful he has the opportunity.
"I went with the wrong crowd at school. I had the idea that doing stuff like that was cool. I was young then. Thank God I changed my mind. I want to go to college. I want to have a better future for myself," he said.
He learned from his early mistakes and now he believes he has some lessons to share to other teenagers and to their parents.
"If you're in high school, everybody has the possibility of college. Anybody has the chance. No matter if you're poor," he said. "They become used to the idea that none of their family has gone to college, so they're not gonna go. There are scholarships to get you into colleges."
"I'd advise parents to be there more. Care more about how they're doing at school. Ask questions, simple questions like how was your day?," said Islas. "Why I made the choices I did freshman year, I have no idea. I had good parents."
Even with all that parental support, Islas had to decide for himself the course of his future.
"My dream? Move to Florida. Have a business," smiled the teenager. "I want a restaurant. I want to get into culinary arts, for sure. and I want to be the chef there, the manager. Move to Florida. Have my house there. My family. That's my dream."
That business is in his blood. He's the "Paco" in Fort Worth's Paco and John, his dad's restaurant at 1116 8th Avenue.
"I want to make my parents proud," he told NBCDFW as he waited on customers. "In a way, go further than what my parents have gone. They did all this - their own restaurant, nice house, cars, everything paid off, excellent credit - with no college. So I tell myself, I gotta go further than that."
His first sign of success will be getting the family's first college degree.