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Tania Benavidez: From CAMP Student to Elementary Teacher

Tania Benavidez clearly remembers working in the fields with her family processing cherries in Wisconsin as a migrant.

After going through the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) at UTB, Benavidez is now in her third year teaching at Rancho Verde Elementary School in the Los Fresnos Independent School District.

CAMP is a federally funded program intended to serve migrant students, seasonal farmworkers and their dependents. Many students have gone out to work in the fields in different parts of the country during the summers with their parents or other family members..

There are seven CAMP programs in Texas, with the objective to assist first-year students transition into college, CAMP program director Noel Rodriguez said. “We also have to help them persist into their second year.”

Benavidez is an example of a CAMP student who has succeeded in the real world.

The CAMP program was initially funded in 2002 and has is currently funded through 2012.  This program is one of the components of the Student Success Center directed by Dr. Beatriz Becerra Barckholtz and under the Division of Student Affairs.

Dr. Hilda Silva, Vice President for Student Affairs and a member of the first CAMP program at Pan American University in 1972, is especially proud of this program.

“I understand the value this program has not only on the students it serves but also on their families.”  There is a sense of unity and pride when you are part of the migrant lifestyle and it shapes your life.  You learn quickly about sacrifices, about priorities and about what it will take to break the cycle of poverty.  The hope of having an education because of what it can do for the family is paramount.”

Benavidez is proud of her achievements, and hopes to set a good example for CAMP students.

As a child, her family struggled growing up in the Cameron Park colonia. Neither of her parents ever made it to high school, and she was second in the line of six children.

“Growing up it was kind of difficult because of my lower income family. I started working at 14 and every summer up until even after I graduated high school, so it was a little bit difficult.”

Benavidez, along with her five younger brothers and sisters, went with their parents to Sister Bay, Wisconsin, just north of Green Bay, to process cherries, which involves removing the pit, twigs and leaves from them. She spent six summers there from junior high until after her graduation at Hanna High in 2002. The workdays were sometimes 16 hours long.

"I knew that I definitely didn’t want to be a migrant the rest of my life, I knew that much," Benavidez said. "I still wasn’t sure as far as what I wanted to pursue in a career but I knew that I wanted to better myself. So just that wanted desire to better myself is what kind of pushed me into wanting to go to school."

Benavidez’s parents pushed her into college so that she would not lead the same type of life as an adult that they did.

“You’ll better yourself, that way you don’t have to live this lifestyle. So they encouraged me. My mom actually helped me by taking me to school, dropping me off, and picking me up during my freshman year.”

Benavidez received encouragement to succeed in her college education, and pursuing a degree was very important.

“I knew that I didn’t want to be working those long hours,” Benavidez said. “I didn’t want to be struggling the rest of my life living paycheck by paycheck, and I knew that in my future, I wanted to have a family and be able to sustain my family and not have them suffer like the way I did. Having them to go work at 14 and the long hours … I would not want that for my kids."

Benavidez joined CAMP at UTB during her freshman year in 2003. One of her former CAMP advisors was Eddie Ramirez. “He was a student advisor at the time when I became a part of CAMP, and I was a very timid girl. I was very shy wouldn’t really talk to anybody. If it wasn’t for him pushing me, and him telling me ‘Benavidez you need to try your best,’ I don’t know what I would have done.”

Benavidez first served as CAMP Club Secretary and later as President.

“After that I just became very social, and I talked more,” Benavidez said. “I wasn’t afraid of showing people who I was and talking about my past and sharing those stories with others. “The CAMP program made me become the person who I am now.”

Benavidez received her Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice in 2008, but was uncertain about a career in law enforcement. “ I would find myself thinking a lot “What do I do now?” “Where do I work?” “What do I do?”

A friend suggested that she try teaching, but she was uncertain about a career in education.

She got a job as a teacher aide and enjoyed it. “I was starting to see the difference I was making in these kids lives by just being a teacher aide. I started to wonder what would happen if I was actually the teacher.”

Benavidez went through the Alternative South Texas Educator Program (ASTEP) to become certified as a teacher.

“I eventually got hired, it was a great experience and fell in love,” Benavidez said. “I am really glad I became I teacher. I love my job. I do not regret changing my mind. I wake up happy every morning knowing I am coming to work with my students.

Benavidez’s twin sisters –Keila and Kenya are first-year students at UTB and active CAMP participants.

“They are doing great,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve had a terrific fall semester. They have learned to take advantage of the program. They have utilized all the tutorials, and they never miss meetings with their mentors. They are model students, and some of that is due to Tania being a role model for them.”

Benavidez is confident that migrant students in CAMP can succeed.

“Do not settle for less and try your best,” Benavidez said. “They will earn so much more if they get an education. It’s going to take a little bit longer three more years, four more years, but that hard work will eventually make you happy. Many students do not want to go though that, they don’t want to struggle, they want the easy way out. And in order for you to get something good in life you need to work hard for it.”

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