Rey Saldaña never imagined himself a leader. Now, he's a city councilman.
The watch party at the YMCA on Southcross quickly turned into a victory celebration as 200 supporters congratulated Rey Saldaña, the new city councilman of San Antonio’s District 4. In another part of the city, Dafney Bell was watching the election-night results on her TV at home.
“When I first heard the news, I got chills,” said Bell. The director of Upward Bound for Communities In Schools of San Antonio, Texas, remembered her former student as focused and with an inner drive. “Rey just shined. He definitely had the potential. But this was a kid who didn’t even know what he was capable of. He’s an inspiration to us all.”
Saldaña’s election to District 4 city councilman last May is a testament to his work ethic and evidence of his heart belonging to his hometown. It also reflects his ability to turn the unlikely and the improbable into a reality.
As a student at South San Antonio High School, Saldaña participated in Upward Bound, a four year program administered through a federal grant that allows Communities In Schools to provide high school students with college prep support and assistance while in college. He met the necessary requirements — good grades, first generation college student and from a low-income family. Upward Bound assists with tutoring, counseling and mentoring, with a focus on college readiness. At South San Antonio High School, participants got to spend five weeks on a college campus, immersed in an authentic, post-secondary education experience. For Saldaña, it was a summer that changed the trajectory of his life.
“That had a huge appeal to me,” said Saldaña, now 25, recalling his first experience traveling outside of his neighborhood and being outside of his comfort zone. “You take that out of the equation and I’m a student who still has a horizon that’s a three mile radius from his home.”
Saldaña graduated, earned a full Gates Millennium scholarship and then traveled 1,500 miles away to California to attend Stanford University. It took him a total of five years to complete two undergraduate degrees — one in political science and another in communication — and a master’s degree from the School of Education. In May 2010, Saldaña became the first in his family to graduate from college. Afterward, he returned to San Antonio to run for office and make a difference in the place his family has called home for nearly 30 years. Like other college-educated professionals who have returned to their native communities, Saldaña has chosen to apply his impressive credentials to serve and become a leader in his hometown. “If you can effect any kind of change, it has to happen at the local level,” he said.
It has been almost a year since Councilman Saldaña started working from the city hall offices in downtown San Antonio. There is no salary for this job. Saldaña describes the work as sometimes hard, because of what he has to do, most times frustrating because of what he’s unable to do, and almost always rewarding because of what he gets to do for the residents in his district. His focus does not stray far from his commitment to the young people in San Antonio. He teaches courses in education at Trinity University and Palo Alto College, and is currently mentoring two students, both from Communities In Schools partner schools.
He also mentors his three younger brothers. Saldaña arranged for laptops to be donated to the Robotics Team at South San Antonio High School. And he recently ran in a charity 5K race to benefit Communities In Schools of San Antonio. His actions reflect his alignment with the Communities In Schools “Five Basics,” especially giving back to peers and community.
And while Saldaña is modest when it comes to talking about all that he has accomplished, he recognizes that his life experiences are inspirational to others.
“When I am somewhere speaking, I see more of a glimmer of hope in the eyes of parents,” he said. “For some of them, it might be that they think because they don’t speak great English, they can’t help their children be successful in school and graduate and go on to college. But they see me, and they hear my story, and then they see that it is possible.”
Communities In Schools connected Saldaña to a resource that put him on a path to become a leader in his community. And as Saldaña has proved with all of his successes, with the right support and resources, the possibilities are endless.
Contact your representative about legislation that affects all children’s futures.
90% of proceeds go directly to student services. Help make a difference.
Beyond the Classroom Blog
“I want to put supports and interventions in place at schools so that students will not be displaced."
My visit to Chaparral High School reminded me that for some kids, even Main Street looks like a dream destination -- and they don't have the bus fare to get there.
Even while she was recovering from breast cancer, Brenda Middleton was taking care of her students.