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December 3, 2018

Association with JCCC began in preschool and is still going strong today.

Most of us can’t say our first day of preschool was the game-changer that led to a career. Jean Cantero can.

About 18 years ago, Jean’s mother, Raquel, walked into the Johnson County Adult Education (JCAE) office at Center of Grace in Olathe. She wanted to improve her life skills by learning English.

JCAE, in conjunction with Johnson County Community College, offered not only English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for her but also an educational opportunity for Jean, then just 5 years old. In a Migrant Family Literacy preschool class, he learned English and kindergarten-readiness skills.

Thus began Jean's long affiliation with the College. He now works as a recruiter in the JCCC Admissions Office.

Yesterday, an eager student

At Center of Grace, Pastor Sylvia Romero opened her arms to the Cantero family. She knew the challenges facing Raquel and Jean because she was once there herself. Raised in Bogota, Colombia, she first came to the United States as a high school exchange student. She returned a few years later as an immigrant and became a U.S. citizen in 1994.

Since 2001, Romero has worked with immigrant families through JCAE. The Cantero family was one of the first she visited when she started as a part-time home visitor. Jean says Romero was the spark that fired his lifelong love of learning.

When he was a senior in high school, the memories of his preschool days and the help his family received from JCAE led him to talk to a JCCC recruiter.

“Most of my friends in Olathe were going to Big K's (University of Kansas or Kansas State University) but there was no doubt in my mind. I was going to JCCC,” he said.

Today, a first-generation graduate

In four semesters, Jean earned an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and worked as a Student Ambassador.

“I loved being a JCCC student,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave this place but I knew I had to if I wanted a bachelor’s degree.”

At that point, he started thinking about how he could gain full-time employment at JCCC.

Two years later, Jean had earned a Bachelor of Science in Communications from Emporia State University and started looking at JCCC’s online employment page. When no jobs met his qualifications, he strategized steps that would eventually lead to a position at JCCC.

“I got a recruiting job at ESU and then after a year, a job opened at JCCC,” he said. “I had experience and jumped at the chance to get back to campus. Working at both my alma maters has been a great blessing.”

Today, Jean passes on the passion and caring spirit he learned from Romero as a recruiter for the College. Melisa Jimenez, the recruiter Jean spoke with as a senior exploring his options, is now his supervisor.

Tomorrow, a master

Soon, this first-generation graduate will hold a master’s degree in instructional design and technology and plans to spend his career transforming lives though learning at JCCC. As a recruiter, he regularly visits the Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts and area private schools. His favorite part of recruiting is when a student has the “aha moment” and realizes that college is indeed possible.

“At JCCC, everyone gets a ticket. Those who have learning challenges, financial issues, to the academically advanced—all are welcome,” Jean said. “I let them know there are tons of scholarship opportunities, resource centers, Honors classes, and lots of clubs and organizations. JCCC is great for all, across the board.”

In 2020, Jean will celebrate 20 years of learning that commenced with JCAE’s preschool. Romero can expect an invitation to the party.

Now executive director at Center of Grace, she meets families where they are, treats everyone with dignity and strives to make them feel welcome in the community. She has helped build the JCAE partnership with Center of Grace into a one-stop starting point for immigrant families, like the Canteros were all those years ago. Newcomers and families in need can learn about local schools, a food ministry, a clothing closet, family health screenings, ESL classes and preschool.

“I truly love seeing families like the Canteros thrive, and it’s fun to see the kids grow up and learn about what they end up doing,” she said. “I think very highly of Jean’s family. I think the success he has had speaks highly of how his parents worked hard and thrived.”

She and Jean are both part of a circle of encouragement that will continue to expand as they fulfill the College's mission to transform lives and strengthen communities.

Your turn – contact Jean or Sylvia

Why wait?

If want to know more about JCCC, contact Jean Cantero.

For more information on life-skills English classes for non-native speakers, contact Johnson County Adult Education.

Pastor Sylvia Romero is ready to introduce you to ESL and JCAE opportunities.

Your tomorrow starts today at JCCC.