What’s stopping you? When the hits kept coming, graduate and mom of four stayed focused on her goal

The pathway to TCC’s 2017 commencement ceremony was not easy for Ashley Calvillo. The mother of four children under the age of seven, Calvillo juggled family life along with school—and family life was anything but simple.

In fall 2015, Calvillo says she discovered toxic mold in her rental home. Her husband worked out of town, so Calvillo was solely responsible for their emergency move. Just when they were getting settled in with family, she found herself facing another crisis.

“My two-year-old son became very ill,” she recalled. “He was diagnosed with pneumonia and now has asthma as a result. He had several ER trips, an ambulance ride and a night in the hospital.”

While her son Dominic recovered, medical bills lingered, and at precisely the wrong time.

“As hospital bills started rolling in, the amount of work at my husband’s job decreased dramatically. He received only one paycheck in a three-month period,” Calvillo said.

Her husband found a new job closer to home, but took a significant pay cut in the process. The family is still recovering financially, staying with relatives to save money.

“It’s very difficult,” she admitted. “I have to remind myself that I’m not defined by my circumstances. I am taking care of my children, meeting all of their needs and investing in my education to better our future.”

Calvillo took a big step toward that better future this month when she received her Associate of Arts in Teaching for grades 6-12. It’s Calvillo’s second degree; she completed an Associate of Arts at TCC in 2013. And that one wasn’t easy to earn either.

“At one point I was nursing my firstborn, working full time and going to school full time,” said Calvillo. “It was a lot, but TCC was there for me. When I felt the call to teaching, I decided that TCC would be the best place to start because it was a wonderful experience the first time around.”

Surprised that this busy mom was able to complete her studies? Don’t be. Calvillo has been overcoming challenges since she was a little girl. At nine years old, she was in a rollover accident.

“Our vehicle lost a tire and flipped multiple times,” she remembered. “My mother was not wearing a seatbelt as far as I know.”

Calvillo lost her mother that day.

“Since I witnessed the accident, I suffer PTSD when driving. It is very hard for me to drive past car accidents as well,” Calvillo said.

But she manages to channel her grief and anxiety into something more positive: “It has encouraged me to always drive defensively, advocate for seatbelt usage and pass on the importance of vehicle safety to my children.”

Calvillo is honoring her mother in another way; teaching was her mother’s career goal. And those around Calvillo say she’s made for the profession.

“Ashley is passionate about her decision to become a teacher and motivated to succeed. She is very focused and driven, even in the face of adversity,” said Shereah Taylor, Ed.D., associate professor and coordinator of the teacher education program.

Taylor asked Calvillo to get involved with the South Campus chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for education. Calvillo immediately began taking part in the organization, attending meetings, literacy night at a local elementary school and professional development opportunities. This spring she helped organize the induction ceremony for new members. Involvement in Kappa Delta Pi had double benefits for Calvillo—she grew professionally and had something to think about besides the challenges at home. On campus and in the field, those challenges could be set aside.

“Whether she’s engaged in class dialogues or tutoring one-on-one with K-12 students, Ashley is entirely sincere and attached,” said Jeff Herr, Ed.D., adjunct professor of philosophy and education. “She has a knack for tuning in wholly and respectfully with all whom she encounters. This characteristic enables Ashley to understand the struggles of others so as to better aid in working toward solutions.”

Herr did not let Calvillo give up when circumstances started to feel like too much to handle.

“His class was more than a class,” Calvillo said. “It was an escape from the defeat I was feeling. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have applied to walk at graduation. He made me realize I needed to walk because I worked so hard and deserve this.”

And walk she did on May 16 at the Fort Worth Convention Center, accepting her diploma with happy tears.

“I’m so relieved that it is done,” she said. “I’m going to look back on all those late nights, all the times my kids said, ‘Are you done with homework yet?’ and ‘I don’t want you to go to class’—I’m going to look back at all the obstacles and be so thankful that I finished.”

And while she finished her Associate of Arts in Teaching, Calvillo isn’t finished with her education. This fall, she will transfer to Texas Wesleyan University—on full scholarship—to work toward her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Her professors have no doubt that she will continue to succeed. It’s just part of who she is.

“Ashley sees the best in others. This mindset has helped to keep Ashley positive through the struggles and hardships that life has thrown her way,” Herr explained. “Her faith in a higher power and in the goodness of humanity drives her forward. Ashley knows what joy is and that she is a big part of making that joy come to fruition.”

This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students, students in atypical careers, Tre’Zjon Cothran , Karmin Ramosand Anthony Smith.