Monica Garcia hasn’t attended her first day of college yet — but she already has a path mapped out that will allow her to start at a junior college, transfer to Fresno State and eventually become a bilingual teacher in the San Joaquin Valley.

Garcia will start this fall at Fresno City College, where she will complete her elementary teacher education requirements before transferring to Fresno State to enroll in the liberal studies and multiple subject teaching credential programs with a concentration in bilingual education. This pathway is made possible by the Enseñamos en el Valle Central initiative to increase the representation of bilingual and Latinx teachers in the region.

“I want to be a teacher to influence future students, and because all my teachers have really influenced me to become what I am,” said Garcia, who graduated from Roosevelt High School in Fresno in June. “I want to be a positive change in students’ lives.”

The initiative is a collaboration between Fresno City College, Reedley College and Fresno State. It provides for an embedded resident counselor at both community college sites to mentor Latinx, low-income and/or first-generation students from entry to transfer.

“The initiative exposes students early on to the profession of teaching in a very culturally-responsive manner as early as high school,” said Dr. Patricia D. López, project director for Enseñamos en el Valle Central at Fresno State.

“Our local community colleges play an important role when it comes to truly diversifying the profession. The fact still remains that the Latinx community’s entry into higher education begins with community college.”

Enseñamos en el Valle Central is a federally-funded cooperative partnership to prepare bilingual and Latinx teachers who can serve students in classrooms across the San Joaquin Valley. The initiative provides students with counseling guidance at the community college level in addition to facilitating strong transfer pathways into Fresno State.

Garcia heard about the initiative while she was in high school. Melissa Kent, resident counselor for the initiative at Fresno City College, recruited Garcia during her senior year. “For a lot of our students who may not be able to start at Fresno State right after high school, they can come and start at Fresno City College and be in a learning community for two years,” Kent said.

Garcia said it’s been helpful to have the support of Kent and others in Enseñamos en el Valle Central to develop a clear pathway to reach her educational and career goals. She’s looking forward to being part of a class cohort where students with similar goals can support each other as well.

“I think it is going to have a huge impact, primarily on our school districts with a teacher shortage. Currently, there are so many school districts that have teachers on an emergency credential. So to actually have fully-credentialed educators go into the classroom, that is going to make a world of difference, especially for our students.”