"I've seen how important it is for these kids to have somebody's who's like them," Garcia said.
He is a paraprofessional at Colfax Elementary School in West Denver, not too far from where he was raised at the intersection of 13th Avenue and King Street in "the projects."
"A lot of our families come from broken homes, they don't have dads. We have a pretty high homeless population," Garcia said. "I could relate to all that because I've been through all that."
That's why Garcia is studying to be a teacher. But with his full-time job coupled with his duties as a dad, he says taking classes in traditional programs was tough.
"It took me one year to do two classes," Garcia said.
At that rate, Garcia felt like he would never get his teaching license. Yet, there is a need at inner schools around Denver and around the nation to get more minorities back into their neighborhoods.
The University of Northern Colorado created the Center for Urban Education for situations just like Garcia's.
"These programs are meant for people who really are not into campus life, but really into career preparation," Irv Moskowitz, director for the Center for Urban Education, said.
The former Denver superintendent runs the program which is based in Lowry in the middle of Denver and Aurora instead of in Greeley with the rest of the University. People like Garcia can take night sessions which focus one class at a time.
"It's like specifically designed for people like me who want to change careers," Garcia said.
Classes which are normally spread over four months in a traditional college semester schedule are compressed into five weeks due to longer classroom sessions at night. That allows Garcia to take four classes a semester equal to other full time students.
Moskowitz says these teacher candidates are still held to high standards. They must complete 3,000 supervised hours in a classroom as a teacher apprentice before graduating.
"It's like swimming," Moskowitz said. "It's not putting your toe in and slowly, slowly getting into the water. They're jumping in the water and they're jumping in as full-time students and learning that they can manage this."
Moskowitz says it's working. His program is getting more people of color back into urban neighborhoods.
"We're sending out people from this program who relate to the children that they teach who feel part of the community they work in who themselves have come from positions where they thought they'd never have a college degree," Moskowitz said.
He's talking about people like Garcia, a man who emerged from the gang world into a reality where he believes he is supposed to be in a classroom.
"That's why I'm here. I want to give kids, I want to be their role model," Garcia said. "The gangs are never gonna go away, you know, unless we start young."
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)