IDEA San Antonio: #ClassroomHeroes

Rhonda Gonzales’ Journey to the Classroom

Part One: Humble Beginnings

I grew up in South San Antonio and went to schools in my local ISD. In high school, I never felt challenged to apply to college.

My high school teachers were good at reminding us to apply for financial aid, but we never really had a focus on applying for college. It was my high school basketball coach, affectionately known as Dodi, that was a huge inspiration.

I can still hear the distinct shrill of Dodi’s whistle. She wasn’t like most coaches who allow athletes to coast through their academic lives, she pushed us on the court and in the classroom.

On game days, my teachers would let us leave class early to head to the gym to practice free throws. But if Dodi caught us in the gym she’d
ask, “What are you doing out of class?” 

I’d explain that our teacher let us out early to prep for the game, and she’d send us back to class with a stern reminder that education was our most important job. I think of her as IDEA before IDEA came to San Antonio.

She wouldn’t let us play if our grades weren’t a B or above which was different than the required C average for athletes.  She was so tough, but it was because she really believed I had the ability to be great.  

Part Two: Shoulders of Giants

I graduated number 11th in my senior class and had no idea how big of a deal that was. I only applied to two colleges and decided to attend Texas Lutheran University in Seguin. During my first years of college, I was an athlete and majored in kinesiology because I loved sports and athletics and knew I wanted to have a career that focused on them. I’d always been involved in athletics during my youth and continued cage fighting outside of college athletics during my early adulthood. 

My parents owned the gym where I fought and that’s where I met my husband. We dated for one year before telling anyone because I was the sensei’s daughter and dating me was a big no-no. I got pregnant with my daughter Gwenyth during my senior year of college and that’s when things all started to change. Her birth was one of the happiest times of my life, but I had no idea that it would be followed by complete sorrow. 

Shortly after Gwenyth’s birth my four-year-old stepson, who I’d known since he was an infant and truly think of him as my own, was diagnosed with stage four cancer. It shattered our world into a million pieces. I immediately made the decision I was going to leave school to help support our family. But as the drop deadline for classes approached, my husband encouraged me to return to class because he knew how important getting my degree was for me and our family. I went back and was determined to finish my senior year and be there every day for my son. I would go to Seguin during the day and go to the hospital every evening until midnight. They didn’t allow infants in the hospital past visiting hours so at times I’d have to hide Gwenyth’s stroller in the bathroom and sneak her into my son’s room. I was so inspired by my son’s strength and resilience as he was miraculously healed. His fighting spirit inspired me to not only fight for his and my daughter’s future but the future of other children I hoped to impact as a coach one day.

Part Three: Call to the Classroom

After enduring an extremely tumultuous year things began to get back on track for my family. My husband and I had always been aligned around the fact that the expectation for our children would be for them to obtain master’s degrees. With our own experiences in mind and the current safety and political climate in the area, we knew we needed to find an education option for our kids that would help them reach that goal.

Coincidently, we ran into an IDEA recruiter while walking through Pica 
Pica Plaza. We watched the video of college signing day with all of those seniors proudly announcing where they would be attending college in the fall, and we were sold! That evening we decided to join the lottery to send our son to IDEA. We were so convinced by IDEA’s college for all mission, that I even decided to apply as well. I had a nagging sense that this was where I was supposed to be. 

I knew I’d have to work hard to work my way up and slowly but surely it happened. I started as a co-teacher, then a lead teacher, then an assistant principal of instruction and now Direct Instruction Program Manager but starting off in the classroom is what gave me that hunger. That spark of knowing every child, not just my own, deserved an education at every stage, that was preparing them for college. I still think of one kindergartner to this day. She was struggling to read and keep up with her peers. I knew I had to give her my best. This was the start of her journey to college, and she needed to have a strong foundation to build on. We worked every day. I gave her extra tutoring time, and she practiced at home. She was so determined to meet her reading goals and she worked tirelessly to make it happen. Finally, the moment of truth was upon us. It was time for her assessment.   

Part Four: Accomplishing a Mission Impossible

I was so nervous for her on the day of her assessment. She worked so hard, and I knew this test could make or break her view on reading moving forward.  But I just had a feeling she was going to pass, so I sent a message to our teacher group chat and asked everyone to line the hallways so we could celebrate her after her big moment.

When she received her score, she burst into the hallway with excitement, and when she saw us, her face lit up. We cheered her on as she walked down the hallway giving everyone high fives.  I was beaming with pride, knowing this was a small but important step in her journey to and through college. That memory is one of many that will forever be stamped in my brain. Years later, I was chaperoning a small group of elementary students on a field trip at the San Antonio Zoo and heard a loud whistle.

I instantly turned around, and there she was, my classroom hero, Coach Dodi. She came right up to me and instantly asked if these were my kids. I responded “No, these are my students. I became an educator.” Right as I said it, she turned to my students and said, “Your teacher is one of the smartest and hardest working people I know.” Hearing her words confirmed I was doing what I was meant to do. Helping students discover who they are. Modeling for them discipline and hard work. And removing barriers for them to get to college and make the world a better place