For some of the adults who knew me as a kid growing up in poverty on San Antonio’s northeast side, it must have seemed improbable that I would go to college — let alone earn a doctorate or become a superintendent. Thankfully, there were other adults in my life who didn’t believe that what I was capable of was determined by where my family lived or how much money we had.

One of those adults was a math teacher who saw my potential and helped put me on a path to college and a career in education. He had high expectations for me. As educators, parents and community members, we need to have high expectations for every student regardless of their circumstances. This includes ensuring that going to college is a viable option for every student who graduates from our schools.

This is deeply personal for me. In Waco Independent School District, we are committed to a college-going culture.

Our commitment includes giving students and their parents the information they need to prepare for college early on and to navigate the application and financial aid processes. That’s why we’re holding College in Sight Week from Jan. 8-12. It’s a week of activities designed to help students from pre-kindergarten through high school get on the path to college.

Monday night, both University High School and Waco High School will host alumni college fairs from 6-9 p.m. Recent graduates from our high schools will be back to give current students a candid, first-hand perspective on dozens of colleges and universities. Our staff will also lead sessions on the application process, financial aid options, college admissions tests, what bilingual students and their families need to know, and more.

Tuesday and Thursday nights, students and their families can check out two local colleges. McLennan Community College will offer tours of their medical facility starting from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday. And Texas State Technical College will offer tours of their culinary, welding and aerospace programs starting from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday. These open houses will also be a chance for families to learn more about the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy and the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy.

For more Waco ISD students than ever before, college is actually starting before high school ends.

In 2016, local voters approved additional funding that is being used to pay for our high school students to take dual-credit classes at McLennan Community College. After removing the barrier of tuition costs, more students are enrolling in these courses. In fact, Waco ISD now has more students taking dual-credit classes through MCC than any other school district.

In addition, Waco ISD’s ACCELERATE program allows students to earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time. Students in the program choose a pathway that fits their interests: allied health, business, criminal justice, liberal arts or science. More than 400 students applied to the ACCELERATE program for the 2017-2018 school year. Students and parents can also learn more about the ACCELERATE program at the college fairs Monday night.

Hard work pays off: That phrase has become a mantra for me and for Waco ISD. It’s something that I’ve seen in my own life, and it’s the first thing that I told every district employee as we got ready to start this school year. It’s also true for our students.

Our students who enroll in dual-credit classes work hard and this past semester they had a 96 percent passing rate. They understand that our community is invested in their success and they’re making the most of the opportunity they have been given.

Dr. A. Marcus Nelson became Waco ISD’s superintendent in 2017. While serving as the superintendent for Laredo ISD, he was selected as 2014 Texas Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Association of School Boards. The group cited Laredo ISD’s PreK-16 program, a partnership with Laredo Community College, as one of the reasons for his selection.