Saul Rodriguez grew up on the Northside, and he loves his neighborhood.

But that didn’t stop him from wanting to go to college and study business, then environmental science. He was prepared to leave Fort Worth behind.

But when he was offered a job in Austin, he quickly realized he couldn’t afford to live there. 

That brought Rodriguez, 23, back to the Northside to take a job as a teacher at his alma mater, North Side High School. Now, he can help students secure the same scholarship that helped him attend Texas State University.

Every year, the North Side High Legacy Foundation gives thousands of dollars in scholarship money to students living in the predominantly Hispanic community. The foundation raises money through various events like auctions and a golf tournament, President Ernest Gomez said.

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North Side High School students need to apply with a transcript, one to three letters of recommendation, a college acceptance and an essay. President Ernest Gomez said finalists go through an interview as well.

The foundation doesn’t just provide scholarships, Gomez said. They take students on trips to visit universities.

“The kids can kind of see, like, ‘Wow, this is really a possibility,” Gomez said. “If we apply ourselves, we can move outside of the Northside.”

Gomez grew up on the Northside, too, and while he loves the neighborhood, he said it feels small. Growing up, young people didn’t have cars to drive around Fort Worth and explore other neighborhoods outside of the area.

Students often are working to help families make ends meet, Gomez said. He wants the foundation to be part of a culture shift that helps kids attend college. 

“We told the parents, we had to make them understand that there was something outside of Northside,” he said. “Because they were afraid to venture out, because it just wasn’t in their minds.”

The neighborhood gets a bad reputation related to crime, carrying a stigma with roots in the early 1990s, Rodriguez said. But he had a fun childhood playing in the streets of the neighborhood.

As a member of the mariachi band, Rodriguez was able to see other parts of Texas and the country, including San Antonio and Chicago.

“They say that we’re all a product of our experiences,” he said. “My experiences were rich there in that program. I’m very grateful for that experience.”

The foundation helped him leave Fort Worth to San Marcos for college, but the failures he experienced there are some of the most valuable lessons he’s learned, he said.

“I didn’t know failure really until I got to college, and it was devastating,” Rodriguez said. “Coming from being a straight A student, one of the top performers in the class, to always feeling like you’re one of the lowest, it was depressing, really.”

But there’s no growth without failure, and he’s grateful for the lessons he learned.

Originally, Rodriguez started as a business major. He was sitting in a philosophy class when he started to realize how unhappy he was in his business courses. He was unhappy, stressed out and uninterested in the subject matter.

He always loved fishing, hiking and being outside, so Rodriguez wanted to pursue a major that would let him explore the outdoors. The path led him to an exploratory professional major and took courses in marine chemistry, climate and other environmental sciences.

Rodriguez found he was happier in this major, but after turning down the Austin job offer, he realized he’d have to take a different path. At first, he was reluctant to take a teaching job at his former high school because he said he had concerns over workload and pay. But then he realized he was letting his negative thoughts take over. 

Rodriguez decided to take the job at North Side High School, where he teaches world geography. He just finished his first semester, and he said it’s been the best challenge of his life.

“It’s interesting seeing the students from the point of view of a teacher. Seeing their experiences unfold right before my eyes is very interesting,” he said. “It’s amazing at times. I see some of the best things happening for them. And, other times, something’s just pulling your heartstrings or making you feel disheartened.”

The semester was a wild rollercoaster of emotions, but he’s happy in his position, Rodriguez said.

And, he’s able to help the students with the same scholarship opportunities. Gomez said the Legacy Foundation helps connect students with mentors to check in on them while they’re in college. Staff also ask recipients to come back for an annual gala, which Rodriguez attended.

“We’re making sure the kids understand that this is your way to broaden your horizons and get the education that you deserve,” Gomez said. 

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Saul Rodriguez teaches world geography.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...