September 1, 2014

Mom at 16, college student at 30: Modesto Boys & Girls Club parent wins scholarship

A Modesto woman was awarded one of 30 full-ride scholarships given nationwide by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to the University of Phoenix. Married and a mom at 16, Annette Hidalgo, now 30, has started classes, a giant step toward her lifelong dream to become a teacher.

Annette Hidalgo just keeps beating the odds.

Hidalgo, 30, was awarded one of 30 University of Phoenix scholarships given by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America nationwide. . She just started classes, becoming the first of her six siblings to go beyond high school.

“I’m in college and it’s still sinking in,” Hidalgo said Friday. “This is a huge opportunity.” The scholarship covers tuition, fees and e-textbooks for the 4 1/2-year program.

Her return to school will be one more thing to toast when Hidalgo and her husband, Daniel, celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary next month. Married and a mother at 16, Hidalgo said she knows that with vows taken so young, making it to the crystal anniversary “is very rare.”

Even graduating from high school took two extra years of home study with a little one in tow. Son Aaron was 3 when Hidalgo spoke at her high school graduation, thanking administrators for the program that helped her finish.

“I never gave up,” Hidalgo said. “He (Aaron) remembers it. He’s proud of it, and I’m fine with that.”

Now a freshman at Beyer High, Aaron will walk the stage in May 2018. His mom will graduate, ready to test for a California teaching credential, seven months later.

“There’s going to be a lot of changes in my house. He’ll be 18, going off to college, and I’ll be just starting my career,” she said. For now, mother and son can commiserate on essay tests and hours of homework.

“We have a friendly competition for who can get the best grades. I have to mow the lawn for him if he beats me. If I win, he’s making dinner,” she said.

Her younger kids – David, 9, Cheyenne, 8, and Cole, 6 – were amazed when she announced she would be taking classes. “They said, ‘You’re going to school?’ But my oldest said, ‘That’s awesome.’ He gets it,” Hidalgo said.

Son Aaron knows he’s going to college, a very different mind-set than she grew up with in Calaveras County. Hidalgo said that throughout her hard-knocks childhood, she dreamed of being a teacher. But her mother, who never finished high school, put little stock in education.

“She said there was no money for college. She didn’t mean to break my heart,” Hidalgo said. Now she works with fellow Boys & Girls Club parents in north Modesto, arranging family activities and urging parents to volunteer in the classroom, as she did.

“People think if they haven’t got any higher education, they’re not qualified. But they are, and I tell them, ‘Your children will benefit from your being here,’ ” she said.

Hidalgo went beyond classroom volunteering, serving a stint as president of the Sylvan Elementary Parent Teacher Organization. She is a member of the school site council and the District Advisory Committee, a Girl Scout leader and treasurer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County Parent Advisory Council.

The Boys & Girls Club program hired Hidalgo in its first year. It serves about 300 students in Sylvan Elementary, C.F. Brown Elementary and Savage Middle School.

Hidalgo’s award has been a boost to the community, said Chad Brown, a Boys & Girls Club of Stanislaus County board member. “It is one of the coolest spinoff happenings within our fledgling Boys & Girls Club’s short history,” he said.

It was Hidalgo’s dedication and her essays that won her the only scholarship awarded in the area, said Lincoln Ellis, chief professional officer for the Stanislaus County group. “It’s very competitive. She’s the only parent I know of to get this,” he said. “We’re just excited.”

Boys & Girls Club hires strong volunteers when it can and encourages them to pursue their educations, Ellis said. “That’s part of our concept of engaging parents.”

The scholarship, which had 160 applicants this year, is paid for by the University of Phoenix. Recipients are selected based on their commitment to their local clubs and communities, the university said by email.

“University of Phoenix is dedicated to providing educational tools and opportunities for the Modesto community,” said Scott Lewis, University of Phoenix Sacramento Valley Campus vice president. “We are proud to provide Hidalgo the ability to pursue her degree and take that knowledge back into our community through her work with the Boys & Girls Club.”

Calling the scholarship the opportunity of a lifetime, Hidalgo said she plans to become an elementary school teacher. She already has classrooms asking her to be a student-teacher for them, she said.

Flashing an ear-to-ear smile, she said, “This has always been my dream.”

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