Cheered on by hundreds of friends and family, nearly 30 women became the fourth graduating cohort of the Chapman University and Padres Unidos Community Worker Paraprofessional Certificate program on Saturday, June 2. The ceremony is the culmination of two years of extended education courses and embedded community fieldwork.

Padres Graduates and Chapman President Daniele Struppa

Padres Graduates and Chapman President Daniele Struppa

Cultivating Community

In 2010, Chapman University’s Attallah College of Educational Studies joined forces with Padres Unidos to develop the curriculum for the two-year professional and community volunteer training program.

Dr. Anaida Colón-Muñiz, Chapman Professor of Scholarly Practice, explained how important the program is for both participants and their community: “Parents in Padres Unidos are empowered through their participation and experience to become outstanding educators and mentors who are engaged in improving the lives of families. Over the years we have enjoyed an exceptional relationship with Padres, supporting them in their program efforts at Chapman, just as they have supported our programs at Centro Comunitario de Educación that serve the Santa Ana community.”

When applying for the certificate program, interested individuals are thoroughly vetted in a rigorous selection process. For this 2018 graduating cohort, more than 180 applications were submitted.

Padres Graduate Victoria Hernandez and US Congressman Lou Correa

Padres Graduate Victoria Hernandez and US Congressman Lou Correa

During the first year, students take core courses in leadership, ethics, growth and development, group dynamics, domestic violence, child abuse, and crisis intervention for paraprofessionals. During the second year, students take their specialization courses with an emphasis in one of the following roles: child and adolescent educator, case manager, parent educator, or group facilitator. In addition to coursework, students are required to complete two years of fieldwork and successfully pass comprehensive exams and submit a professional portfolio.

Through this extended partnership with Chapman, Padres Unidos “serves a vital function by bringing hope and transformation through education to the community. The community workers are ambassadors of goodwill who help families grow strong so that parents and children may fulfill their dreams and optimize their potential to help themselves and others,” explained Dr. Suzanne SooHoo, Chapman Jack H. and Paula A. Hassinger Chair in Education and coauthor of a recent book about the Chapman-Padres partnership, Let’s Chat: Cultivating Community University Dialogue.

Hope and Transformation through Education

Following a keynote address by Dr. Susie Lopez-Guerra, Director of Community Relations at Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), each graduate received a certificate of completion from Chapman and a community service award from Congressman Lou Correa, the U.S. Representative for California’s 46th congressional district.

Padres Grad Lidia Perez

Padres Student Speaker Lidia Perez

Deputy Orange County Probation Officer Steve Sentman and Deputy Probation Officer Douglas Sanger also passed out special certificates to several of the community workers who completed their fieldwork in the juvenile hall program.

The highlight of the ceremony was the two student speakers who shared their personal experiences, with stories of transformation and overcoming obstacles.

Padres Unidos “offered me a great gift, the opportunity to enter Chapman University and continue growing as a person and discovering abilities that I can use to benefit myself, my family, and my community,” said Lidia Perez.

Another graduate, Sonia Tlaseca, shared that the program required great sacrifice, but also an opportunity to learn and grow: “During this challenging program, we have overcome obstacles and learned despite adversity and difficulties, each and every one of us here have met our objective. No matter how high a mountain is, there is always a road to the top.”

Sonia Tlaseca and Dean Margaret Grogan

Sonia Tlaseca and Attallah College Dean Margaret Grogan

Tlaseca concluded her moving speech with words of encouragement for all her fellow classmates: “This diploma will allow us to walk with our community, leaving traces in the parents that we will help and in everything we learned. Let us be people that promote change in our community. Let us be aware of our potential to help others who need it most. Let us be the best we can be, but not feel like we are the best.”