“Education, the path to change; education, an important part of social justice; education, the foundation for success; education, a way to improve the quality of life, based on grassroots needs.”

Those were among the assertions delivered by speakers during the May 16 signing and launch of CASA Universitaria (CASA is the acronym in Spanish for Learning Communities and Academic Services) at Our Lady of Victory Church in Compton.

The first program of its kind in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is part of the University of Guadalajara’s Virtual System (UDGVirtual), created to promote diverse educational services with on-site supervision at distant low-income communities.

Among speakers was Compton’s Mayor Aja Brown (who labeled education as “an important part of social justice”); Compton Councilmember Dr. Willie Jones; Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, Mexican consul in Los Angeles; and Manuel Moreno Casta√±eda, rector of UDGVirtual.

The program will work as a satellite UDG campus that will offer online high school, undergraduate and graduate college courses taught in Spanish, in a variety of disciplines, including digital journalism, educational development, and organizational management.

The program is part of the parish leaders’ ongoing efforts to help improve the quality of life of a community where violence has been a constant, although the crime rate has dropped considerably (by nearly 20 percent), according to local authorities’ reports.

“I bet for education — it’s the way to change our people,” remarked Missionary Servant of the Most Holy Trinity Father Francisco Valdovinos, who nearly seven years ago — when he became the parish pastor — was “welcomed” with a gang-rivalry shooting in the rectory’s alley.

“With education we can develop leadership, and in turn help improve the quality of life of families, of the community and the world,” he told more than 100 participants.

To prove how education can make a difference in the life of families, Father Valdovinos invited parishioner Antonia “To√±a” Villalobos to the podium. At 79, the great grandmother recently graduated from the parish’s elementary program in Spanish and is planning to enroll in the high school program.

“My dream since I was a little girl was to earn a high school diploma, but my parents did not have the means,” said Villalobos, who has lived in Compton for 22 years.

In 2007, Our Lady of Victory partnered with the Mexican Education Institute for Adults to offer online educational classes in Spanish for adults who had not completed their primary education. A year later, it teamed with the Colegio de Bachilleres de Michoacán to start the Plaza Comunitaria, an online high school program in Spanish for locals to obtain a high school diploma. Both programs also have local supervision from certified professionals.

“Women are increasingly assuming more responsibilities in society, beyond their role at home,” Sada, the Mexican Consul, told the mostly female audience. “They pursue academic education to prepare themselves better. And what better example than this great grandmother, who is setting an example to her family.

The diplomat noted that because “we already live in this country, we have to prepare for all the challenges we face. In places with larger Hispanic communities, we need to keep developing the beliefs that education is the foundation for success, which we need to instill in our younger generations, and also we need to be prepared when they pass immigration reform.”

Among those listening attentively was Guillermina Madrigal, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1987 with a degree in nursing from the University of Guadalajara and a few years of work experience under her belt. But as she and her husband settled and began having a family, she became a stay-at-home mother.

Now that three of her four children are in college and the youngest will soon graduate from high school, Madrigal would like to return to the workforce, possibly with an advanced degree.

“I would like to check with them (University of Guadalajara) if I can enroll in some courses that will prepare me to earn credits to return to work in the medical field here in the United States,” she said.

The degrees earned through CASA Universitaria would have to be validated in the U.S. through equivalency programs at U.S. universities, UDGVirtual’s rector Moreno Casta√±eda, told The Tidings. He said the institution’s aim is to respond to “grassroot educational needs” and they view Latino communities in Los Angeles County, such as Compton’s, as a fertile soil to develop more specialized and customized curriculums.

As an example of tuition costs he offered the 40-hour Community Center Project Management course, which the Mexican university is looking to promote in Los Angeles for an average $200.

He said the university and parish would have to work on scholarships offered to those students who might not be able to afford the amount.

For more information on Our Lady of Victory educational programs call the parish office, (310) 631-3233. For information about online high school and college program CASA Universitaria, visit www.udgvirtual.udg.mx.