Contents 24 Inside HCISD
18 Harlingen High 1991
Dr. Bonnie Villarreal
Dishman Principal wins National Distinction
Dr. Bonnie De La Rosa Villarreal has dedicated her life to dentistry and her community
UTRGV and HCISD break ground on historic campus
The Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees earns distinguished 2019 Outstanding Board of the Year award
Katelynn Renteria Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a college graduate, a published author, a ukulele player, and a freelance writer.
Inclusive & Accessible For All Harlingen CISD is committed to placing dyslexia specialists at every elementary campus
Worldly Opportunity Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy sees success in first year
School Lunch Heros Child nutrition staff ensure children eat healthy yearround, including during an unprecedented crisis
Innovation Grants HAEF awards teachers funds for STEM labs, sensory pathways, and TV studio
Helping Hands Harlingen CISD launches a first-of-its-kind recycling initiative at Boggus Stadium
United Partners The Harlingen Area Educational Foundation raises more than $117,000 for students, teachers
Celebrating Attendance High school students have the opportunity to win a brand new car through Perfect Attendance Giveaway
Speciality School HCISD transforming Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences
Class of 2020 make history with virtual commencement ceremony
Chairman Cavazos Dr. Art Cavazos appointed as chairman of the State Board for Educator Certification
College Showcase The top two students from all four of Harlingen CISD high schools detail their future plans
22 ECHS 2018
Students tell the story of a senior year notably changed by the COVID-19 pandemic
School@Home HCISD emerges a stronger community following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic
20 Harlingen South 1996
A veterinarian, owner of Arroyo Veterinary Hospital in Harlingen, and successful HCISD FFA alumni.
Class of 2020
Dr. Shelly Mitchell
#1 School Board
Growing Local Talent The HCISD Performing Arts Conservatory prepares students to enter into theater and dance tracks during college
On the Cover
Harlingen CISDâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s history of fiscal responsibility and long-range planning allowed the district to provide a tax cut
by Roland Anzaldua
HCISD stays connected with students and staff using technology during COVID-19 pandemic
THE MAGAZINE | Volume 8 PUBLISHER
HCISD Public Relations and Community Engagement Department DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS/ COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Brianna Vela-Garcia PHOTOGRAPHY
Roland Anzaldua, George Banda, and Nathaniel Bauer CONTRIBUTING WRITERS
Megan Aune, Ashley Berrones, Brianna Vela-Garcia, Cristina Garcia, and Catherine Duncan PRODUCTION & PRINT SERVICES
Jessica Martinez, Esmeralda Rodriguez, and Lizzette Sandoval
we’re online www.HCISD.org
Download the free HCISD mobile app on your Apple or Android device. Available Available onon thethe iTunes iTunes
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A letter to our
community This school year, I am especially proud and wholeheartedly grateful to be surrounded by caring, empathetic, and versatile educators and staff, all of whom contributed to a successful school year. Our teachers and students gracefully transitioned to utilizing our School@Home online and offline learning program immediately after the Spring Break holiday, showing that together we can adapt and take on any challenge that may come our way. I am so appreciative of our child nutrition staff who continued to provide our community’s children with the healthy meals they needed to get through the unprecedented crisis. Our custodial, transportation, and nursing staff has played a huge role in protecting the health and well-being of our students. Together as an organization, the entire Harlingen CISD staff, community, parents, students, and supporters proved that through unity and grit, we can conquer any obstacle. While our immediate focus abruptly changed after Spring Break, our long-term goals remain the same. We continue transforming our district to meet the educational, social-emotional, and personal goals of all students. There are many individualized pathways to success offered within HCISD, including within our 12 academies.
modernizing our school district by providing new, innovative schools such as the Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences, the success of our Performing Arts Conservatory, and our commitment to educational opportunities through programs such as our classroom sessions dedicated to improving the lives of our students with dyslexia. Additionally, we tell the story of how our district quickly prepared and responded to the COVID crisis. There are countless stories of the many successes we have achieved together as a united community. Our students' lives have been positively impacted by the compassionate and education-focused staff and teachers through collaboration with our parents and guardians, community partners, and our education-centered HCISD Board of Trustees. This strong collaboration and our ability to adapt to change allowed our students to write memorable chapters into their stories because great stories truly start here at HCISD. With open arms, we welcome all children who wish to be part of our united HCISD family. No matter where you’re from or where you’re headed, there’s a place for you to flourish at HCISD!
In this issue of Experience HCISD, we proudly tell the stories of how we continue
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407 N. 77 Sunshine Strip Harlingen, TX 78550 PHONE
DR. ART CAVAZOS
DR. BOBBY MUNIZ
JAVIER DE LEON
DR. BELINDA REININGER
DR. NOLAN PEREZ
Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, religion, sex, disability, or any other legally protected status in employment or provision of services, programs, or activities.
tate education and community leaders gathered virtually Tuesday, May 19, to recognize Principal Irma Davis as the 2020 National Association of Elementary Principals (NAESP) National Distinguished Principal (NDP) for Texas. Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association hosted the online event where Davis was awarded a check for $10,000 thanks to a generous donation from long-time TEPSA business partner, Mentoring Minds. She will represent Texas at the National Distinguished Principals program sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals in Washington, D.C. in October. Modeling high expectations for students and teachers, Davis led the transformation of Dishman Elementary to a model for academic progress and student achievement in Harlingen CISD. Dishman is known for its supportive
and engaging learning environment where students, teachers, and parents are committed to working together and holding each other accountable to “Work hard, stay focused and remember the goal.” “Dishman Elementary is a Title 1 school with 97% of its students economically disadvantaged. Ms. Davis has never let these circumstances distract her from proving her belief that all students are capable of achieving academic success,” Harlingen CISD Performance Outcomes Administrator Dalia Garcia wrote in her recommendation letter. “She has dedicated herself to supporting students and empowering teachers in an effort to bring successful outcomes to all at Dishman Elementary.” In Davis’ nine years at Dishman Elementary, the school has garnered national recognition for maintaining high achievement levels among all
"WE ARE SUPER EXCITED TO RECOGNIZE DISHMAN ELEMENTARY PRINCIPAL IRMA DAVIS FOR HER LEADERSHIP AND ONGOING COMMITMENT TO PUBLIC EDUCATION." - DR. ART CAVAZOS
students and narrowing the achievement gap. The school was a Texas Honor Roll School in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education named Dishman Elementary a National Blue Ribbon School— the first school in the district’s history to receive the prestigious award. “We are super excited to recognize Dishman Elementary Principal Irma Davis for her leadership and ongoing commitment to public education,” Dr. Cavazos, Superintendent of HCISD said. “Along with the National Blue Ribbon School distinction by the U.S. Department of Education, Dishman Elementary educators, staff, and leaders such as Ms. Davis continue to make HCISD proud while inspiring lifelong learners.” The school’s learner-centered approach and positive school culture has resulted in high parent engagement and support in the small rural community. Prioritizing the critical role parents play in their children's academic success, Davis has forged deep connections with families. They understand the school’s academic rigor and high expectations are helping their children build the foundation for future success in life. “As leaders, principals wear many hats to serve their school communities. And today, they work tirelessly to meet the physical, emotional, and educational needs of their students and staff from a distance,” said Shad Madsen, CEO of Mentoring Minds. “We have so many of these leaders throughout Texas, but there is one who stood out in the crowd— and we are honored to recognize her as the
2020 National Distinguished Principal. It comes as a special privilege to recognize Irma Davis as this year’s distinguished principal and have her represent the state of Texas.” A principal for more than 10 years, Davis was named the 2019 HEB Excellence in Education Elementary Principal. TEPSA received more than 84 nominations for the 2020 NDP award. After a rigorous reading process, in which applicants shared their educational philosophies and accomplishments both in and out of the classroom, a peer-review committee selected four finalists. These outstanding leaders
then showcased their achievements during a virtual school visit by a team of educators. Davis will receive her award this fall. Sponsored by NAESP, The National Distinguished Principals program honors outstanding elementary and middle-level administrators who ensure that America’s children acquire a sound foundation for lifelong learning and achievement. The program was established in 1984 to recognize and celebrate elementary and middlelevel principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staff in their learning communities. ó
UTRGV AND HCISD BREAK GROUND ON NEW HIGH SCHOOL
he University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, The City of Harlin- “The ability to have secondary and post-secondary university presence here in our community is really a game-changer for the city of Harlingen," gen, and The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School Mayor Chris Boswell said. “It brings us an entirely new level of opporDistrict hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the new tunity for our young people to access higher education. It’s going to be a UTRGV Early College High School. beautiful, wonderful thing for us for decades and beyond that.” The ceremony began the morning of September 1 on the school’s future HCISD Board President Eladio Jaimez spoke about the skills needed to site, a 6.3-acre tract of land on Medical Drive in Harlingen. UTRGV make this project possible. President Dr. Guy Bailey began the groundbreaking ceremony with an acknowledgment of the current times. “This team has been pivoting well before we were in this position of the pandemic and today is a sign of that,” Jaimez said. “The school district “It's been an interesting few months we’ve come through,” he said as he has made moves so we can offer these opportunities of higher education stood in front of the construction site. “Well if you look behind me, you to our students and as the mayor said, it will make for better lives in this can see in spite of everything, in spite of a pandemic and an economic recession, we haven’t missed a beat here. We are here today to cele- community.” brate the UTRGV/HCISD high school. This project will really transform education. Students will get a head start on some of the best careers.”
Breaking ground on the property marked a historical moment for the entire community.
This partnership will help replace the current Early College High School campus on Pecan Street with a 64,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility that will house hundreds of students.
“Now this partnership between UTRGV and HCISD is especially close
"THIS PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN UTRGV AND HCISD IS ESPECIALLY CLOSE TO MY HEART BECAUSE I HAVE ALWAYS ADVOCATED FOR TIGHTER ALIGNMENT BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES." DR. NOLAN PEREZ UT SYSTEM REGENT
to my heart because I have always advocated for tighter alignment between public schools and universities,” UT System Regent Dr. Nolan Perez said. “Harlingen ECHS has set the gold standard from the beginning by offering a challenging dual enrollment curriculum, a nurturing small learning community, and a commitment to recruit historically underrepresented and first-generation college students.”
UTRGV/ECHS offers students a direct path to a bachelor’s degree with a focus on academic core, engineering, computer science, or education. Through this program, students can earn up to 60 hours by the time they graduate high school. “These kinds of buildings, while they are brick and mortar, give people hope and remind them of what is possible,” Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos said. “This is a great partnership. It’s one that has been built on bold thinking and innovative dreaming for our kids.” Every speaker at the event thanked UTRGV, HCISD, and the City of Harlingen and their leaders for their support of each other to make this project a reality. The building of this new school was made possible by the gracious donation of land from the City of Harlingen and the agreement between UTRGV and HCISD to pay 50/50 for the building of this new facility. The new campus is expected to open by Fall 2021. Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District established Early College High School in Fall 2007, creating the third public high school and first specialized high school in the city. In Fall 2017, ECHS entered into an agreement with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Plans for building a new campus began in February 2019. ó
# SCHOOL BOARD HCISD Board of Trustees named state Board of the Year
he Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees was selected as the 2019 Outstanding Board of the Year for the state of Texas.
The Board of the Year was announced on Sept. 20 at the TASA|TASB Convention in Dallas. Since 1971, the Texas Association of School Administrators has honored outstanding Texas school boards that have demonstrated commitment to their students and to their communities.
“This award is for our 18,600 students and our 3,000 teachers and employees who work tirelessly every day to make sure all students have every opportunity to succeed. We have an incredible community that always comes together to support our district and it’s because of their support an amazing transformation has taken place at HCISD,” Board President Dr. Nolan Perez said. During the convention, Dr. Perez also recognized the Harlingen community and thanked Harlingen CISD Superinten-
dent Dr. Art Cavazos for his leadership in ensuring the board’s innovative and forward-looking decisions are responsibly rolled out to “create a systemic transformation in our district for the holistic education of all our students.”
The HCISD school board was chosen from among five finalists that were interviewed by a committee of Texas school superintendents. The committee’s decision was based on several criteria, including the board’s support for educational performance, educational improvement projects and school transformation initiatives, commitment to a code of ethics, and placement of the welfare of children served by the school system above other motives.
The committee was impressed by the board’s collective “heart for people, service mentality, and passion for results,” their ability to see conflict not as a problem, but as a challenge, and the “great story they have to tell about what public schools can do.”
“The Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees knows that the public’s perception of the district and of public education in general begins with them,” said Robin Ryan, superintendent of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD and chair of the TASA School Board Awards Committee. “They take their job as ambassadors for Texas public schools seriously.” The HCISD Board of Trustees was nominated for the award by Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “The board’s governance has allowed us to provide students with greater access to a world-class education that sparks creativity and discovery both inside and outside classrooms,” said Cavazos. “They have learned from and challenged one another so that equitable and high-impact decisions are made, and I am honored to have a seat among them.” HCISD serves more than 18,000 students. The district’s board of trustees was also selected as an Honor Board in 2000 and 1977 and received the Outstanding School Board Award in 1993. ó
hen the bell rang on the Friday before Spring Break, students flooded through the halls in a frenzy of exhilaration, anticipating a long-awaited reprieve from their studies. Seniors casually waved goodbye to friends and teachers like they would have at the end of any other school day, expecting to see them after just one brief week. This sense of normalcy, however, was short-lived. Midway through Spring Break, students and parents received news that the break was extended with hopes that students would soon be able to return to school. As the epidemic increased in force, school was canceled altogether. The seniors would, in fact, not be returning from their break. So what now? What was to come for these seniors? They could put on their prom dress over their sweatpants and dance to slow songs with their dog in their room. They could check every platform of social media to entertain themselves: scroll through Instagram, refresh Twitter, mindlessly wander Facebook, give TikTok a try – wait, maybe it’s time to refresh Instagram again. They could practice their graduation speech repeatedly in the mirror to a receptive audience of toothbrushes and shampoo bottles or attack their entire pantry with unprecedented vigor then look up workout videos on Youtube to try and offset it. Pick up a new hobby, and another new hobby, and another new hobby, only to get frustrated and give them up. Spend two hours doing makeup and hair for your 30 minute Zoom meeting. Maybe
think about trading in their cap and gown for a mask and gloves. Yet amidst the flurry of chaos and excitement of adjusting to this new situation, a feeling of grief and hopelessness emerged. There was a sense of mourning for what could have been, for what was supposed to be. Senior year is the quintessential “fun” year of high school, a time to experience everything for the last time and to savor those experiences. Instead, for the class of 2020, it became a time of seclusion and stagnancy. Students had expected to go back to class, at least for a few more months. They’d expected to sit with their friends at lunch, laugh in their favorite classes, share their excitement about prom and pep rallies and their upcoming graduation. They certainly didn’t expect to leave without thanking their teachers, to have prom canceled, or to miss out on their final sport seasons. They didn’t expect to be faced with the possibility of never setting foot in those familiar hallways again. Many extracurricular events, ones students had been preparing for and looking forward to throughout the year, were canceled or postponed indefinitely. For seniors, this would have been their final chance to participate, the culmination of years of effort. Spring athletic seasons, such as track and field, baseball, softball, and waterpolo ended abruptly. Harlingen South senior, Idol Ramon, was unable to complete his final track season due to its premature conclusion. “It is extremely heartbreaking to the whole team,” Ramon stated. “We won’t be able to celebrate with each other at district
"I COPE BY FOCUSING ON THE MEMORIES, AND ALL THE EXPERIENCES AND OPPORTUNITIES I'VE HAD AT HCISD THAT WILL LIVE FOREVER IN MY HEART. FOR THIS, I AM GRATEFUL." GABBY GARZA
12TH GRADE HARLINGEN H.S.
or travel to San Antonio for regionals.” This year was also an opportunity for band students to record for Honor Band of the state, an extraordinary, unprecedented opportunity for seniors at Harlingen High School South. Additionally, they had hopes to submit recordings to major music conferences around the country, with the potential of being selected to perform there. “These events mean a lot to the majority of band seniors as it’s a form of closure for a program we’ve been involved with for about seven years,” said Harlingen South senior and band section leader Maya Wilson, “especially as this was our last opportunity to compete as a group.” For students involved in theatre, aspirations of performing at long-awaited competitions were unexpectedly curtailed. Students were unable to participate in the remainder of spring events, an especially devastating one being the One-Act Play, which established itself as a remarkably successful enterprise within HCISD and a profound, significant tradition for involved students. “For me and my teammates in the HHS Speech team, it hurts really,” said Harlingen High School senior Gabby Garza. “We worked so hard, put in countless hours to prepare and be successful in the upcoming competitions in spring, such as NIETOC and the One-Act Play. But I am also grateful that we had the opportunity to complete in the district competition the weekend before this all went down, and we advanced to bi-district.” Though a plethora of students are similarly
disappointed by the sudden conclusion of their extracurriculars, all grieve the loss of much anticipated, school-wide social events. Those rights of passage featured profusely in television shows and rom-coms and every piece of propaganda for the “classic” high school experience. Instead, prom dresses and tuxedos will sit untouched, and for the first time, seniors will be participating in their own graduation from behind a screen. Those same students who eagerly rushed out the school gates in March now wanted to return more than ever. “It’s a hard pill to swallow, knowing that there’s no way to make up the end of your senior year,” said Early College High School Student Council President ,Gabby Ruiz. “Although the cancellation of all our social events has taken a toll on me, I’ve been working to see the better in this situation and essentially make lemonade out of sour lemons. I’m being more optimistic as I see that there are greater things that lie ahead as I enter a new chapter in life. The bonus of it all is, I will one day get to tell my kids a killer story all about their mom’s quarantined senior year.” Like Ruiz, many students attempted to push aside their discontent and move forward. HCISD encouraged this process through their swift modifications and solutions, counteracting these sudden developments. Graduation ceremonies were updated to adhere to the health standards necessary for the present crisis, and took place online, with hopes of an alternative graduation in July if conditions improved. The approach to courses and schoolwork mirrored these precautions, transitioning online as schools closed for the end of the year. School officials hastily reached out to families, guiding them through the contemporary formats of education during an epidemic. Students logged on to online learning platforms such as Zoom, Schoology, and Edgenuity, receiving necessary education void of the hazards accompanied with attending school in person. Harlingen School of Health Professions senior Jessica Perez was thankful to be relieved of the concern that students like herself wouldn’t be able to achieve the certifications they had contributed years of effort to. “Unfortunately we do not have the benefit of being able to go to our regular practicum, but we have the resources we need to study for
our medical assistant certification at home,” Perez explained. “The administration is trying their best to answer our endless questions by providing virtual classes and meetings with the seniors and providing the best resources to aid us in this time.” Seeing peers and teachers, even if only through a screen, became a cheerful, heartening installment in student’s routines, a hint of normalcy during this bizarre time. They valued the opportunity to visit with those esteemed teachers and students, and to, at the end of the semester, express their appreciation through simple, meaningful, much deserved words of “thank you” and wishes of a happy summer. However, for seniors, there are more chances they’d have wished for with: the office staff that greeted them when they walked into school every morning, peers they waved to in the hallways, custodians that always managed to brighten their day with an eager fistbump and comforting smile, security guards they cracked jokes with between classes, counselors that had navigated them through the chaos of classes, extracurriculars, and college throughout the last few years, coaches that fostered values of perseverance and unity while cultivating teams that formed second families. The remarkable team of people, who with their constant reassurance, whether it be through advice and guidance, or simply a warm smile, unwavering kindness, and patience, molded their high school experience into the phenomenal experience it was. As the Class of 2020’s senior year came to a close in a most extraordinary fashion, students found solace in the eccentricity of the current situation and the alleviating reminiscence of the past. They took notes as their teacher explained the lesson from inside their computer, taught older relatives how to use facetime, and planned virtual movie nights with friends. They recalled the peals of laughter resounding through their favorite class, the electricity buzzing through the stands of the student section on game night, the colored lights illuminating beaming faces at dances. Though the finale of their high school experience is likely not quite as grand as they envisioned, it’s inarguable that the Class of 2020 will go down in history. “I cope by focusing on the memories, and all the experiences and opportunities I’ve had at HCISD that will live forever in my heart,” Garza says. “For this, I am grateful.”ó www.HCISD.org
Class of 2020 celebrates with virtual graduation
undreds of Harlingen High School, Harlingen High School South, Early College High School, and Harlingen School of Health Professions students became graduates last week in a historical ceremony streamed online. Students and their families eagerly and proudly watched from home and were joined by supporters from across the state and nation in celebrating the Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony.
Before the ceremony began, renowned Texans such as Sadie Sink from Stranger Things and ABC News Correspondent John Quiñones sent heartfelt wishes to all graduates from HCISD schools. Other speakers included Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos, HCISD Board of Trustees President Eladio Jaimez, the class presidents, valedictorians, and salutatorians. “Life happens fast, and it hardly ever happens as we planned it. For most of us, it took a lifetime to learn that lesson. The Class of 2020 learned that lesson right after Spring Break,” said Jaimez. This online and live-streamed commencement ceremony marked the first in HCISD’s history. “We are a class of firsts, a class of significance, a class that is equipped with the ability to adapt and trailblaze. I am confident the class of 2020 is a historic one, but not because of this pandemic, because of all of you ,because
of the great accomplishments you will achieve after this, because of the records you will set, the problems you will solve, the aspirations you will pursue, we will be a class with a passion for innovation and yearning for justice,” said Harlingen High School South Valedictorian Catherine Duncan. “We will be a prolific class, one that can adjust to new challenges, one that will approach life in an appreciative and genuine manner.” Others echoed Catherine’s sentiments in their speeches as well. “Remember to look back on these times fondly. Don’t dwell on the past,” Harlingen High School Valedictorian Sydney Powelson said in a message to her classmates. “You're going to go out in the real world, and I believe in you. Make the best of your life after today.” The valedictorians, salutatorians, and class presidents all reflected on their high school years with a sense of appreciation for those around them, including their family, teachers, classmates, and others. Harlingen School of Health Professions Valedictorian Siyan Wang thanked her mother who sacrificed a lot to ensure that Siyan received the best education possible. “During my high school years, I spent many times at home and my mom was working very, very hard to support me. Because of this, all my friends' families treated me as one of their own, and I thank them too,” Siyan said. “There are so many great memories to laugh and talk about. I am so glad I went to a school where
there were only a few people, but we were all so united as a class.” Caroline Grannum, Early College High School’s valedictorian, said being at the top of the class was not an easy goal to accomplish. “I know that each and every one of my peers also worked incredibly hard during these years. We worked hard and accomplished our goals. This journey has given me so many valuable lessons. Aside from a quality education and warm memories, ECHS has shown me the importance of being focused as well as the value of being engaged with my community,” she said. As superintendent, Dr. Cavazos delivered a speech from the heart. Reminding the students to remember the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future, his words sparked encouragement and joy in the hundreds of graduates from all four high schools. “Never forget the dreams and goals you set for yourself. Adapt, improve, and continue striving for success. Pursue perfection, and you will reach excellence,” he said. “You are college, career, and community ready.” The commencement ceremonies closed with all four class songs. “This is not the end. Rather, it is just the beginning of the rest of your life. It’s another chapter in your HCISD story. We love you, we miss you, and we have the highest hopes for you,” Cavazos said. “I am super proud of you!” ó
healthy and complied with the same guidelines as lunches served throughout the school year, which include whole grains, low-fat entrees, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables. “We provide kids three entree options every day,” said Frances Garza, the kitchen manager at Gutierrez Middle School who also distributes meals during the summer. HCISD offered an array of meals which differed from day-to-day, including chicken burgers, yogurt plates, sliders, rotini pasta, hummus plates and deli sandwiches – all of which were prepared at Dr. Cano Freshman Academy by dedicated child nutrition employees. Those same employees delivered the food from the school kitchen to the children’s hands. Though meals are prepared and distributed by HCISD during the summer, the program aims to feed children from all areas of the Rio Grande Valley and beyond. HCISD did not require children reside within school district boundaries to receive a free meal. “We actually had a mother from Austin; it was her first time here,” Garza said. “We told her that this program was open to the public, and she’s been bringing her child every day since.”
Garza recalled a personal connection she made with a parent whose children received meals provided by the program. arlingen CISD Child Nutrition teams served fresh, hot meals to students throughout the school year and into the summer.
The child nutrition department is dedicated to ensuring children are well-fed and eating healthy year-round, including during an unprecedented crisis. Harlingen CISD continued to provide breakfast and lunch meal pick up for all children 18 and younger as students remained home for a portion of the 2019-20 school year. With a smile, nutrition teams at the district’s various meal distribution sites handed out free meals to the parents and guardians of children.
The department’s hard work while schools closed did not go unnoticed. The district celebrated School Lunch Hero Day on May 1, a day observed to recognize and acknowledge the impact of child nutrition staff on the lives of all children.
“She has four kids and was so thankful for the food we prepared them. Like her, I was a single mother,” she said. “I worked two jobs to support all three of my kids, and if the district had this program when they were little, I would be out here too.”
The child nutrition staff members prepared and served school meals, and helped nurture students through their daily interactions and support.
Erica Espinosa, a cook assistant at Cano who distributed the nutritious meals alongside Garza, also realized the impact the summer feeding program had within the Harlingen community.
Throughout the summer, they continued to serve as a powerful force in serving free meals. Nutrition teams served free meals at designated community centers, neighborhoods, and HCISD campuses. The meals were
“I love what I do,” she said. “You get to see the kids and learn their personalities. They are so happy, especially when they see that we’re serving watermelon.” ó
Villarreal Harlingen HS '91
In 2019, Dr. Villarreal helped raise money for scholarships as well as grants for teachers and schools through the Harlingen Area Educational Foundation fundraiser.
Dr. Villarreal has served as a mentor for students on the dental pathway at the Harlingen School of Health Professions. Students interested in dentistry spend part of their day with Dr. Villarreal, lovingly called Dr. Bonnie by staff and students. 1991 graduate of Harlingen High School, Dr. Bonnie Villarreal was destined to become a distinguished dentist.
It was in 7th grade, at then Gay Junior High School, that she began exploring the idea of becoming a dentist. “I loved science classes. I was so fortunate to have such great science teachers from 7th grade through high school, and they were all women,” Dr. Villarreal said in an interview at Rio Vista Dentistry, a private practice that she co-owns located on Loop 499 in Harlingen. After graduating from Harlingen High School, Dr. Villarreal attended the University of Texas San Antonio where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree. She completed her doctoral studies in dental surgery at Baylor College of Dentistry. She resided outside of the Rio Grande Valley for 10 years to complete her education, but she felt a longing to be back home. Once she settled back into her beloved Harlingen community, Dr. Villarreal committed time to philanthropic causes aside from fulfilling all her duties as a dentist. She joined the Junior League of Harlingen and the local Rotary Club. She also served on the Valley International Airport board where her role as chairwoman allowed her a key role in decision-making concerning the ownership and operation of the municipal airport. “When you volunteer, you get to learn from other people around you and collaborate with a group of people who are known for getting things done,” Dr. Villarreal said.
“I love to spend time with them,” she said. “They come here, and they’re learning. We also get to learn from them. It’s much more than just dentistry. We teach them about community.” She also serves on Harlingen CISD’s advisory board dedicated to shaping its dental education. “I’ve enjoyed making the program more about just learning a skill and seeing the program evolve from that. I was fortunate to be very involved with the help of the HSHP principal Tina Garza before the ground was broken for the school.” Although she considers herself an introvert, Dr. Villarreal has found purpose in being involved and encouraging herself to lead when necessary. In fact, she was head cheerleader at Harlingen High School. “I loved being a Cardinal,” she said. Her commitment and spirit in support of Harlingen CISD have been unwavering since then. Aside from her professional and volunteer roles, Dr. Villarreal and her husband Cris Villarreal raised two children, Cristian and Olivia, who they call the “loves of their lives.” Dr. Villarreal has continued advancement of her studies at the prestigious Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, Florida, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Technology is taking dentistry to where it’s never been before, and you have to keep up with all the innovative tools and techniques,” she said. “There are things you can catch in your dental office that are medical-related. I catch sleep apnea almost every day.” Dentists are truly doctors who save lives. “There’s a whole medical connection to dentistry,” she said. “I really do love what I do.”
Mitchell Harlingen HS South '96
r. Shelly Mitchell grew up around animals, having participated in Future Farmers of America as a Harlingen High School South student in the 90s.
The youth organization ,still in existence today, helps students discover their passions through hands-on experiences and friendly competitions. FFA members have gone on to become veterinarians, chemists, government officials, and leaders.
Dr. Mitchell, a veterinarian and owner of Arroyo Veterinary Hospital in Harlingen, is one of the many successful FFA alumni. An alumna of Harlingen High School South who graduated in 1996, Dr. Mitchell wanted to become a veterinarian for as long as she can remember. “My dad’s friend was a veterinarian, so I spent a lot of time around the profession,” she said. “My dad would drop me off, and they would put a chair by the cattle. I would watch them work with the cows, and I loved it.” Years of preparation, perseverance, and studying have allowed Dr. Mitchell to achieve her dreams. She studied animal science at Texas A&M, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree. Dr. Mitchell attended the renowned veterinary school in College Station and graduated in 2004. The Rio Grande Valley called Dr. Mitchell home soon after she graduated from veterinary school, and she spent 11 years practicing at Mission Veterinary Hospital. In 2015, she received an email about a clinic for sale in Harlingen.
her clinic. Now, she gives back to her community by serving on the advisory board for Harlingen CISD’s veterinary academy. Dr. Mitchell’s children attend Harlingen High School South and Cano Freshman Academy, and they too enjoy FFA with the support of their mom and dad. Supporting her children and other students within the community has been rewarding. Students in Harlingen CISD’s veterinary academy spend part of their school day at Arroyo Veterinary Hospital. “It’s been great getting to see them learn at the clinic,” she said. “Animals are a lot like people; we treat them a lot like people.” To become a veterinarian, one must complete their undergraduate degree as well as four years of veterinary school. “When it comes to vet school, the big thing to remember is to immerse yourself in becoming a veterinarian. It’s great to be smart. That’s going to get you far in this, but they also want to see you’re a person who works hard,” she said, noting spending hours alongside a veterinarian while in school is an invaluable experience. “Volunteer places so you know what you’re getting into. There’s love and loss involved in being a veterinarian.” To relax outside of a clinic setting, Dr. Mitchell enjoys spending time with her children and husband on South Padre Island. They often take their boat out on the water and spend summer days vacationing in their RV.
Calling it a “leap of faith,” Dr. Mitchell purchased the clinic which she has owned for five years.
The Mitchell family proudly care for three dogs, a potbelly pig, chickens, a horse named Monkey, 10 lambs, four goats, and a herd of cows.
“It’s turned out to be God-sent. It’s allowed me more time with my family, and I still get to practice medicine and do what I love,” she said about owning
“I have a lot of fun being a veterinarian,” she said. “I’m glad I didn’t end up doing anything else. This is what I love.”ó
Renteria Early College HS '18
he’s a college graduate, a published author, a ukulele player, and a freelance writer.
partnership with Texas State Technical College, “My parents always encouraged me to read, and at the time, allowed her to complete two years of writing has been a way for me to be creative. I college courses while in high school. wrote it right when I started high school.”
Katelynn Renteria, 20, has accomplished a great “Early College gets you to thinking about your deal in her young life. Having graduated valedic- future,” she said. “I fell in love with the fact that torian from Early College High School in 2018, there are all these unanswered questions in Renteria went on to attend the University of psychology. We are governed by our mind, and I Texas Rio Grande Valley where she obtained feel that’s something really cool and paradoxical, her Bachelor of Science in Psychology this year. and in psychology, we are studying ourselves.”
Renteria is currently wrapping up the second book in the sequel and is working on a children’s book. In her free time, she enjoys calligraphy and art as well as comics and shows such as Flash and Super Girl. Renteria also finds time for her mom, dad, and brother, all of whom spend quality time together at their “backyard parties” with “lots of food,” she said.
Renteria celebrated her 2020 commencement As a student at ECHS, Renteria published her ceremony online due to the pandemic impact- first book, The Other Side of the Law, a novel ing the nation, but remains eager for the next for young adults. step in her educational path: grad school. Rent- “Kay Verdant isn’t your typical high school sopheria plans to earn her Master’s in Experimental omore. With her unique skillset, her extracur- The 20-year-old college graduate is eager to be in the classroom once again. Psychology from UTRGV. ricular activities include catching criminals on Although she graduated summa cum laude with dangerous missions and following evil schemes, “I really enjoy the experience of sitting there a 4.0 GPA from UTRGV, Renteria was unsure topped off with finishing her homework,” with everyone. The students are engaged, and if she would be accepted into the Experimen- according to Renteria’s synopsis of the book. we’re there because we love the concept,” she tal Psychology program. She found out in May “How does she do it? She attends Henderson said. “It’s wholesome to be among people who via email. High School, a school for spies, and learns the are passionate about psychology.” “I cried, my dad cried, my mom cried,” Renteria tricks of the spy trade. Together with her brother She’s currently working to launch a podcast said while smiling. “My dad immediately said, Roy and best friend Scarlet, Kay completes her called “What’s not to Psyche” about psychology, mental health, and other topics surrounding the 'Well, I told you.' My mom was like, 'I’m so proud operations flawlessly.” of you!'” Renteria’s book can be found on Amazon as well human brain. Renteria hopes to become a professor and Renteria began thinking about her future as a as in public libraries. student at Early College High School. HCISD’s
“I started with reading, then writing,” she said.
conduct research in the future. ó
How HCISD implemented its School@Home program
hile public schools across the United States closed to protect the health and safety of students, Harlingen CISD educators swiftly began preparing in the event a case of COVID-19 emerged in South Texas.
Although there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Texas before Spring Break, HCISD launched an emergency plan and webpage to inform the public about its systems in place. Harlingen CISD quickly escalated its plan from level one to level two on March 19. The following day, the district implemented level three of the emergency plan to include the closure of campuses, cancelation of school-related and staff travel, and the redesign of instructional and meal distribution programs. The true spirit of Harlingen CISD was not broken by the news of school closures. Rather, the HCISD Family came together to support its students and community.
Our hallways may be empty, but our hearts are full
HCISD staff from cafeteria personnel to teachers and administrators, each played an essential part in operating its instructional and food programs immediately following Spring Break. Throughout Spring Break, however, staff committed their holiday to prepare for what instruction would look like while schools remained closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
RESPONDING TO CHANGE
Alicia Noyola, Ed.D., Chief Academic Officer for Harlingen CISD: “We’re a school district of about 18,000 students and 3,000 staff members. Everybody mobilized within a week to meet the needs of all students. I’m really proud of our staff because it took people rolling up their sleeves and investing long hours to ensure our students would be learning at home. During our 2019-20 school year kickoff, you could feel a sense of unity. It’s developed over time, and we really saw that unity in action as we came together this month. Truly, we’re all facing this crisis together. Our teachers, our students, parents are all impacted. So, it’s been a joint effort, and we are appreciative of everyone responding quickly to support our students. We definitely have great people in our district and our community.”
Joseph Villarreal, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education at Harlingen CISD: “The Office of Secondary Education during the week of Spring Break helped define and set parameters as it pertained to online and offline instruction. Online learning provides students with out-of-school internet connectivity the ability to access schoolwork uploaded onto a learning management system. Offline learning provides students with printed assignments that are exact or similar to the assignments available through online learning. Teachers worked to create two assignments per subject per week for two weeks. Within 5 days, 317 courses were created and designed at the secondary level. Twenty-nine courses were created at the middle schools, while 288 courses were created across the three high schools, including Cano Freshman Academy. Also, 160 elective courses were created in Microsoft One Drive across both high schools. It’s pretty impressive what all stakeholders in our schools were able to do in a limited amount of time. Aside from the academic component, our district’s guidance and counseling department is also working to address the
social-emotional needs of our students. We’ve seen physical education and athletics coaches utilizing our platforms to motivate students to work out and exercise at home. All these components are vital to the success of our students. We’re going to improve our program along the way, so it continuously gets better for all.” Lori Romero, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education: “Our main focus was to make sure our students continued learning even though they are not inside our classrooms. It’s been a learning experience for us all, and with the support of staff and parents, we were able to accommodate students with offline and online learning options. The kids are familiar with the programs and tools they’re using at home because they also utilized them in our classrooms. In April, we will move into a new program, which will allow our elementary students to be assessed academically. This will allow them to embark on an individualized path of learning to best meet their needs in all subjects including in math and reading. We’ve really seen our teachers step up to the plate to continue making connections with their students. These bonds are so important to our children, and it’s been great to see the videos of teachers interacting with students. The kids know we’re there for them no matter what.” Veronica Kortan, Administrator for Organizational Development at HCISD: “Before we launched our HCISD offline and online learning program, we assessed the technology needs of our families. In one week, we transitioned about 2,500 families to utilize the online learning platform. Additionally, we have issued about 800 technology devices to students as of March 27. That’s a huge success. I’m also in awe of our campus technicians who have come together to do incredible work. The district set-up a call center where technicians and staff answer technology questions called in by students, parents, and staff. They’re doing incredible
work. We could not accomplish all this in such a short amount of time without the support of everyone involved. We’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from our school community as well as parents reaching out to say they are impressed with how we have been handling the situation. It has been heartwarming. It’s great to work for a district that also takes care of its internal staff and our community.” Shane Strubhart, Administrator for Public Relations and Community Engagement at HCISD: “Before Spring Break, our district began preparing to educate the community about our emergency response plan. At the beginning of March, while students were in school, Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos began communicating with parents and staff about our systems in place. We continuously monitored and worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Cameron County Health Department to ensure the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. As soon as we became aware of a case of COVID19 in our region, we notified parents and the community about our plans and systems in place through emails, text messages, phone calls, and social media. Additionally, we launched a webpage, hcisd. org/health, to provide aroundthe-clock and the most up-todate information for our HCISD families. We understand that communication between our school district and HCISD families is of great importance. We always strive to thoroughly and accurately update the entire HCISD community about our plans. It’s been truly special to see the outpouring support from parents and staff. We are so grateful for all the videos and photos of students learning at home that have been shared with us on our Harlingen CISD social media channels. We look forward to continuing open communication between the district and the community and are appreciative of everyone’s support during this time.”
Launching the program Superintendent Art Cavazos, Ph.D., posted video messages, visited campuses while practicing social distancing, met virtually with principals, and made behind the scenes and collaborative decisions for the best interest of all HCISD students. One of those collaborative decisions included the launch of HCISD’s School@ Home program. All courses, including core and electives, are offered through the program. “I want to thank the countless people that have worked around-the-clock to make today a reality,” Dr. Cavazos said during the launch last week. “This week’s transitions have not been easy, but we know that this must be done to keep our students and staff safe. As your superintendent of schools, I want to let you know that we miss our students and staff dearly. I can assure you that as we move into this new platform of learning, we are excited to once again get to the core of what we do – instruction and education for students.” During the first two days of the Good to Go meals program, the child nutrition staff and other essential staff members served 15,000 meals for students. “Our hallways may be empty, but our hearts are full,” Dr. Cavazos said. Harlingen CISD will continue to provide communication and guidance through the online and offline learning process. “Together we are making this work, and together we will get through this,” Dr. Cavazos said. “I am confident that HCISD will emerge from this more united and stronger than ever. Thank you HCISD Family for your trust and your patience.” ó
HARLINGEN HIGH SCHOOL - VALEDICTORIAN
As Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District students prepared to graduate, the valedictorians and salutatorians from each high school shared their future plans.
"I will be attending Texas A&M University and majoring in Poultry Science. I would like to thank my mother for always being the best role model for me and for teaching me to never give up. I would also like to thank my grandparents for always being there for me. As Walt Disney stated, 'The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.'"
HARLINGEN SOUTH - VALEDICTORIAN
"Next year I will be attending Northwestern University in Chicago and I am planning on majoring in journalism. I hope to one day write or report for a major publication. I would like to thank my incredible parents and brother, my teachers and swim coach, and all my amazing friends."
Caroline Rose Ebele Grannum
EARLY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL VALEDICTORIAN
"I will be attending Prairie View A&M University to study Biology. My goal is to become a veterinarian. I would like to thank my family, close friends, teachers, and pets for encouraging me throughout my education. A quote I live by is 'Believe in yourself and strive to do your best in every situation because effort and determination leads you closer to achieving your dreams.'"
HARLINGEN SCHOOL OF HEALTH PROFESSIONS - VALEDICTORIAN
"I will be attending The University of Texas at Austin. I want to thank my mom because she has always been a role model to me, and has taught me to never give up. Thank you, and I love you so much!"
HARLINGEN SOUTH - SALUTATORIAN
"I will be attending Texas A&M University in the fall, and majoring in economics. I would like to thank my family for always pushing me enough to make me strive to make you proud every day. Also, my friends who Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve leaned on every step of the way and supported me no matter what. Thank you so much to these people, I love you all more than you can ever imagine."
HARLINGEN HIGH SCHOOL - SALUTATORIAN
"I will be attending The University of Texas, studying Pre-Med to one day become a Cardiologist. I would like to thank my father because he opened my eyes to the medical field and my mother for supporting this endeavor. I have a long journey ahead of me and I am ready for the challenge. 'Run when you can, walk when you have to; crawl if you must, just never give up.' by Anonymous."
Kayla Mae Ellorimo HARLINGEN SCHOOL OF HEALTH PROFESSIONS - SALUTATORIAN
"I will be attending Texas State University and majoring in Exercise & Sports Science with a concentration in Pre-Rehabilitation. I want to thank my mom and dad for supporting me in all my endeavors, teaching me the values of passion and service to others, and helping me believe in myself. Without you, I would not be the passionate and purpose-driven person I am today."
AARON JOSHUA VIDAURRI EARLY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL - SALUTATORIAN
"I will be enrolled at the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University and will graduate with my Bachelorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s of Science in Computer Science. I plan to lead both independent and commercial projects, and eventually become the head of my own company. I attribute my success to my individual intelligence, diligence, and willpower. I would like to thank my parents for encouraging my growth and supporting me throughout my education. Kanye West once said, 'Reach for stars so if you fall, you land on a cloud.'"
Harlingen CISD enhances dyslexia program
arlingen CISD expanded its dyslexia program this school year to include additional teaching techniques that benefit children diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability. Educators teaching students with dyslexia spent last week learning from specialists with the Neuhaus Education Center, a non-profit organization working in partnership with Harlingen CISD. In a classroom setting, teachers underwent rigorous training intended to inform educators of research-based techniques that are proven to benefit children diagnosed with dyslexia. Across the state, about 8-to-10 percent of school children are diagnosed.
Harlingen CISD provided teachers the opportunity to attain additional certifications as dyslexia practitioners or academic language therapists, according to the district’s dyslexia specialist Shannon Reyna. “Not every district has these resources for students with dyslexia,” Reyna said, adding that the partnership with Neuhaus is an exciting step toward reaching children with the learning disability.
Harlingen CISD committed to placing dyslexia teaching specialists at every elementary school campus to reach all students. Those educators solely teach students with the disability and are not required to teach in a traditional classroom setting. Typically, students identified as having dyslexia “experience primary difficulties in phonological awareness,” according to a handbook provided by the Texas Education Agency. Characteristics may appear at an early age and may include difficulty reading words in isolation, trouble decoding words, slow or inaccurate oral reading, and spelling difficulties. By screening children at an early age, Harlingen CISD has committed to improving the classroom experience for children who are diagnosed. “Children with dyslexia have adequate or above intelligence,” said Reyna. “By the time they are in high school, many of our students with dyslexia are at the top of their classes and on our billboards across the city.” A dyslexia diagnosis allows teachers to intervene and provide quality education tailored to meet the individual needs of all children. “Our students with dyslexia are very talented, and they do very well when they receive the therapy,” Reyna said. “When we begin
providing therapy at an early age, they’re ready to begin middle and high school.” For Stuart Place Elementary teacher Jennifer Esparza, teaching students with reading difficulties has been her passion. “I want to see children succeed,” she said after providing small-group instruction to four students diagnosed with dyslexia. “I want to see them read for a lifetime of learning and improve their reading ability to succeed now and in the future.” She advises parents to become advocates for their children. Parents of Harlingen CISD students may request a dyslexia screening for their child by contacting their child’s campus staff. Additionally, Harlingen CISD screens students beginning in Kindergarten. In elementary school, the dyslexia teaching specialists work with students from Kindergarten through 5th grade throughout the school day. The group attends therapy for about 45 minutes to an hour, four days a week. By middle school, students are transitioned to a hybrid program through Language! Live. The program provides “comprehensive literacy strategies that combine foundational and advanced learning skills with digital and teacher-led reading inter-
vention to significantly improve literacy skills,” according to the program’s website. “Once they are in middle and high school, they have the skills they need to be good readers,” Reyna said. “They earn high scores on the STARR. They do well on the SAT and the ACT.” Harlingen CISD provides all its graduating students diagnosed with dyslexia a roadmap for success, which includes a plan on how to succeed in college, their career, or in the military. The plan serves as a resource and includes information about accommodations that graduates may request while attending universities and colleges. One accommodation includes audiobooks for students diagnosed with dyslexia. Audiobooks allow students to listen to almost any book, including science books and novels, read aloud by the narrator. Harlingen CISD provides its students with the reading disability access to 750,000 audiobooks at no cost. The district continues providing students access to audiobooks through their college and university careers. “Our kids really enjoy their therapy time,” Reyna said. “They look forward to it, and it’s extremely rewarding to see their improvement and success as they grow. ó
arlingen CISD kicked off Texas Public Schools week with the ribbon cutting of the newest academy, the Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy.
The sounds of the jazz band and mariachi group inside the World Languages Academy gym greeted community members, students, members of the Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees, the Harlingen mayor and commissioners, and others as they walked in for the grand celebration. The Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy teaches students about multiple cultures by connecting them with students in other countries. Students’ literacy and writing skills are developed simultaneously.
“What a great school district the city of Harlingen and the surrounding community has,” said Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell. “All schools are great. I love all schools, but there’s something special about public school.”
Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy sees success in first year
At HCISD, those special experiences include the ones happening inside the classrooms at the Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy. Students there have the opportunity to learn American Sign Language, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French and other languages.
The incorporation of multiple languages within Vernon began at the start of the 201920 school year.
Members of the Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees, the state board of the year, spoke at the event.
Already, students know how to speak multiple languages and are further developing their skills.
“We are strong advocates and advocate for our public schools,” said Dr. Nolan Perez, the board’s president and a graduate of public schools. “We take great pride in living in a beautiful, exceptional community like Harlingen that understands that strong communities support public schools.”
Three students spoke to the audience during the ceremony in French, Chinese, and Spanish. Additionally, a sixth-grade student welcomed everyone in American Sign Language. “We’re committed in HCISD to providing choice; we have five Dual Language Academies, two STEM campuses, two International Baccalaureate candidate schools, and of course our newest addition, the Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy,” Dr. Cavazos said, noting HCISD has 12 industry academies throughout high schools. This allows students the choice of attaining industry certifications while in high school.
Dr. Perez thanked those in attendance, including the mayor and commissioners, for their support of Harlingen CISD schools. The audience also heard from the talented musicians of Vernon Middle School World Languages Academy before listening to Trustee Gerry Fleuriet speak about the long history of Vernon, which once served as a high school in Harlingen. Mrs. Fleuriet beamed with great pride when speaking about student success and
memories of Vernon Middle School, which she called the “showcase of our Valley.” “You (Vernon) are once again leading the way,” she said. “Thank you, dear Vernon, and we ask just that you always remain our sentinel for a dream that is coming true.” ó
HCISD superintendent appointed as chairman of State Board for Educator Certification Harlingen Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos was unanimously appointed as chairman of the State Board for Educator Certification in December. Dr. Cavazos will chair the state board whose mission is to improve student achievement by upholding the highest level of educator preparation. “I am humbled and honored to take on this important leadership role,” said Dr. Cavazos. “I am looking forward to improving student achievement by serving as chairman of the State Board for Educator Certification.” In 2016, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Dr. Cavazos to serve a six-year term on the State Board for Educator Certification to help advance the work of education across the state. The state board is “dedicated to improving student achievement and ensuring the safety and welfare of Texas schoolchildren by upholding the highest level of educator preparation, performance, continuing education, and standards of conduct,” according to its mission statement. Along with serving as chairman for the state board, Dr. Cavazos has been appointed to public and non-profit boards and committees during his time as an educator. Dr. Cavazos is a nationally recognized leader with over 30 years of experience in education. ó
HCISD transforming Gutierrez Middle School of the Arts and Sciences
utierrez Middle School students gathered at the Harlingen CISD Performing Arts Center in October for an exciting announcement.
Harlingen CISD revealed that Gutierrez Middle School would transform into Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences at the start of the 2020-21 school year. “It’s going to be great,” said Principal Mike Reyes. “We feel like we hit the lottery, we are excited, and we thank the Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees and Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos for selecting Gutierrez Middle School as the next arts and sciences specialty school.” Gutierrez Middle School will inspire students to identify their passions and discover the best versions of themselves
while fostering a culture where all stakeholders gain a deep appreciation of the arts and sciences. As students continue excelling in academics at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences, the campus will develop well-rounded students who value diversity and inclusivity in preparation for future opportunities.
Gutierrez Middle School began integrating Discovery Education, Harlingen CISD’s partner, curriculum into classroom instruction this school year. Discovery Education curriculum immerses students in educational experiences designed around real-world challenges to heighten students’ readiness for college and careers.
Harlingen CISD continues expanding choices and opportunities for children. As a result, the district, through input from our community, identified a need for specialty schools designed to develop students into innovative thinkers in preparation for future opportunities.
In 2018, Harlingen CISD transformed Lee Means Elementary to Lee Means Fine Arts Academy, where elementary students interested in dance, music, and theater have a space to enhance their creativity every day.
The transformation to the arts and sciences specialty school will be strategically rolled out at the start of the 2020-21 school year to offer a comprehensive curriculum tailored to meet the needs of all students, including those interested in the arts and sciences.
“As we continue expanding choices and opportunities for our children in our schools, we invite all children to join our HCISD family,” said Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “We are looking forward to further enhancing students’ passions with the launch of Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences.” ó
he Harlingen Area Educational Foundation raised more than $117,000 at its annual fundraiser held in March. The funds are distributed as grants and scholarships the following school year to teachers, schools, and students in support of education and HCISD. For the past three years, the foundation has raised money for the educational grants and scholarships by holding a fundraiser in collaboration with special guests. This year’s special guests included Linda Burke of Burke Children’s Dentistry in Harlingen as well as longtime educator and community philanthropist Lupita Muñiz. Burke and Muñiz teamed up with HCISD Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos in a friendly competition. That competition included challenging each other to raise money.
HAEF raises $117K for students, teachers 36
“We all collaborated because the final goal is the same,” said Muñiz who taught
"IN HARLINGEN, WE SUPPORT EACH OTHER AND EVERYONE ENDS UP WINNING. MOST IMPORTANTLY THE CHILDREN BENEFIT FROM US WORKING TOGETHER TOWARDS A COMMON GOAL." LUPITA MUÑIZ
EDUCATOR & PHILANTHROPIST elementary students for 30 years before retiring from Harlingen CISD. “We know that the money we raise as individuals is going to go to students and teachers. It’s very important that there be funding for scholarships and teachers to work on innovative projects. The community came together to show its strong support for our schools and school district.”
dren benefit from us working together towards a common goal,” Muñiz said. Muñiz is particularly grateful for the multi-generational support of Harlingen schools. The annual event was held at Stefano’s restaurant, which donated food and soft drinks, allowing the foundation to bring in even more funding for students and teachers. “I am proud to work with a group of community professionals that really care about our students, school district, our educators, and our superintendent,” said Belinda Zapata, owner of Farmers Insurance Agency and the president of the foundation’s board. “HAEF works tirelessly in support of the entire district. We have members who are business owners, bankers, attorneys, and everything we do is to help the district, superintendent, and the district’s senior team accomplish their goals for each school year.” The event was chaired by Maru De La Paz.
grants to projects such as a Life Skills wheelchair swing for Sam Houston Elementary, heating ventilation, and air conditioning equipment for Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South, and funding for sensory rooms at Sam Houston Elementary, Rodriguez Elementary, Milam Elementary, Long Elementary, Zavala Elementary, among other major projects.
“We would have been happy with $60,000 raised, and when we heard we raised over $117,000, we were over the moon,” Zapata said. “There is truly a sense of unity in our community, In the near future, the funds raised will be which makes it such a happy place to work. I am distributed to students and staff who qualify very proud of everything that’s happening in “In Harlingen, we support each other and every- for scholarships and innovative teaching grants. our school district and our community,” said one ends up winning. Most importantly the chil- Last year, HAEF awarded innovating teaching Muñiz. ó Businesses and individual supporters made donations in support of the foundation’s mission to provide support to teachers, students, and staff.
G R A N T S for children that allows them to use their energy in a calming environment.
From a textured wall to a spinning disc that’s close to the ground, the tools inside the sensory classroom make a “big difference” for the children, Mancilla said. “The best part is that they have a place to go where it’s okay to sit and stare at the lights and watch them change colors,” she said. Harlingen CISD held a sensory room open house to showcase the safe space to parents and community members. “It took a lot of people to make this a reality,” said Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “It takes the whole community coming together to provide these opportunities for our children." As students utilized the sensory tools, like the pea pod used by children for compression, parents and grandparents took photos and smiled with pride and joy.
he Harlingen Area Educational Foundation awarded 20 grants and scholarships totaling $28,879 to teachers, schools, and students at its 2019-20 scholarship breakfast. Funds granted at this event were raised in 2018-19.
Five Harlingen CISD elementary school incorporated sensory rooms within their campuses this school year, thanks to a generous donation from the Harlingen Area Education Foundation, a non-profit organization. “It’s enhanced the children’s motivation to learn … If we bring them here to decompress, they’re calmer and they have a clear mind; they’re able to absorb more when they return to the classroom,” said Laura Mancilla, a teacher at Rodriguez Elementary School. The Harlingen Area Education Foundation donated $5,000 to Rodriguez as well as Sam Houston, Milam, Long and Zavala elementary for the sensory rooms. The sensory room serves as a therapeutic space
“She feels secure (in the sensory room). She feels good, and she feels loved in this school and especially in this room,” said Carmen Rojas, grandmother to one of the students. “They can jump, and they can do a lot more things here than in a regular room.” Sam Houston Elementary was also awarded a portion of the $4,560 pen pals grant and a wheelchair grant totaling $2,489.57, which will allow the school to purchase an innovative wheelchair swing for students in need of the accommodation. “I want to thank HAEF for their generosity and for supporting our students,” said Sam Houston Elementary School Principal Virginia Armstrong. “The grants support our teachers, who give so much of their time and their heart to the education profession. To have someone recognize that and to help them in their endeavors means a lot to our students and our schools.” HAEF provided grants to Harlingen CISD’s teachers of the year as well. “It’s important to our team and me to give back to our community,” said HAEF president Eric Kennedy of SpawGlass. “There’s a lot of excitement to be proud of this school year.” ó
SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS AWARDED BY HAEF $1,000 SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS Eliseo Pedraza - Harlingen HS Jacqueline Rivera - Harlingen HS Joanna Herrera - Harlingen HS Devanny Esparza - Harlingen HS Salvador Elizarraraz - Harlingen HS South Teresa Rodriguez - Harlingen HS South Alondra Trejo - Harlingen HS South Haley Morin - Harlingen HS South Jasmine Corea - Early College HS Taylor Garcia - Early College HS Karina Cano - Harlingen School of Health Professions Daniela Ramos - Harlingen School of Health Professions INNOVATIVE TEACHING GRANT AWARDEES Pen Pals program $4,560 total awarded to Vernon Middle School, Sam Houston Elementary, and Austin Elementary. The grants will be used for World Language Academy and International Baccalaureate students to join the pen pals educational program. Life Skills wheelchair swing $2,489.57 awarded to Sam Houston Elementary Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning equipment $1,544.45 grant total awarded to Harlingen High School South and Harlingen High School Sensory Room $5,000 total awarded to Sam Houston Elementary, Rodriguez Elementary, Milam Elementary, Long Elementary, Zavala Elementary Upgrading Award Winning Newscast Production $1,285 awarded to Zavala Elementary TEACHER GRANTS FOR SCHOOL USE Harlingen High School awarded $500 for district teacher of the year Michael Gerleman Wilson Elementary School awarded $500 for district teacher of the year Mariela Herrera Media Arts and Communications Academy awarded $1,000 to lead teacher Patricia Guajardo
HCISD lowers property tax rate by 10 cents
he Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously in September 2019 to significantly lower the property tax rate.
Although the state only required school districts to provide some tax relief, the HCISD board opted to lower the property tax rate to provide the full tax relief intended by the state’s school finance bill, House Bill 3, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott this summer. As a result of the board’s decision, Harlingen CISD’s property tax rate was reduced from $1.318 to $1.2164 per $100 of taxable property value – a decrease of slightly more than 10 cents. For example, Harlingen CISD residents with county-appraised property valued at $100,000 will save $100. The savings are calculated based upon the assessed taxable property value and amounts to $100 in savings per $100,000. Harlingen CISD’s history of sound decision making, fiscal responsibility and long-range planning allowed the district to provide the full tax cut.
“The Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees continues to bear in mind fiscal responsibility, while continuously making decisions that benefit our students,” said board President Dr. Nolan Perez. “Our community has entrusted that their tax dollars are properly managed, and we are fortunate to be able to provide significant tax relief to them. On behalf of the board, I would like to thank our community for their unwavering support.”
In 2015, Harlingen CISD voters approved the Tax Ratification Election, or TRE, to fund needed school improvements and upgrades to include new district-wide security systems, surveillance cameras in elementary schools, fencing, updated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems as well as other capital improvement projects. That year, the tax rate increased by about 10 cents due to the voter-approved TRE. The board voted in September to return the property tax rate to the previous rate set prior to the passage of the TRE, while still maintaining the current funding. “Our healthy budget has allowed us to reduce our tax rate to about $1.22, which is lower than the tax rate we set before voters approved the TRE,” said Perez. “I want to thank the Board of Trustees for keeping our children and staff a priority while ensuring fiscal responsibility and financial transparency to our taxpayers,” said Harlingen CISD Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “Thanks to the incredible support of our community, we have been able to transform our district and create choices and opportunities for students to set them on a path for global achievement. Furthermore, I want to thank our business office and Chief Financial Officer Julio Cavazos for their continuous commitment to financial excellence at HCISD.” Property owners within Harlingen CISD boundaries saw the reduced tax rate on their tax bills. ó
"OUR COMMUNITY HAS ENTRUSTED THAT THEIR TAX DOLLARS ARE PROPERLY MANAGED, AND WE ARE FORTUNATE TO BE ABLE TO PROVIDE SIGNIFICANT TAX RELIEF TO THEM." DR. NOLAN PEREZ HCISD BOARD TRUSTEE
Gillman Auto Group partners with HCISD for car giveaway
ith computers and phones charged, ready to go, hundreds of Harlingen CISD families turned to the Internet to see who would win $30,000 worth of prizes from Gillman Chevrolet Harlingen. The Gillman Auto Group of the RGV has partnered with HCISD since 2013 to provide the Drive for Perfect Attendance Giveaway. While this year’s program was brought to an audience via a cyber awards presentation, the giveaway is unique because it is the only of its kind for the dealership with ten stores statewide.
these prizes are for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors who did not miss a day of school for the academic year. This year 624 HCISD students had their eye on the prize, a 2020 Chevy Sonic.
Microsoft Surface Pro, another a MacBook Pro, and finally the Chevy Sonic.
The drawing of the last name drew much excitement for Gillman and HCISD staff. Superintendent Dr. Cavazos carefully took out While the event usually draws a crowd of the white folded piece of paper and called out, hundreds to the Harlingen dealership, Gill- “Harlingen High School’s Ramiro Mendoza.” man Chevrolet knew this year’s presentation Because the event was held virtually, there would need to look different. That’s when the needed to be an exciting and special way dealership decided to live stream the event on to recognize and surprise Ramiro. While Facebook. Eligible students and their fami- winning the car remained a mystery to the lies were notified in advance so they would not high school junior and his family, Superintenmiss the big announcement. dent Dr. Art Cavazos and David Amaya drove “COVID-19 has canceled many events around the car to Ramiro’s house. The surprise simulour community and our world, but we wanted “We are incredibly grateful to have Gillman taneously brought joy and shock to Ramiro’s to still make sure we provided this opportunity Chevy as a partner to our school district,” said family. for students,” said Gillman Chevrolet Harlin- Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “This is an gen General Manager David Amaya. “We wish incredible moment for our students. They are “It’s amazing to win,” said Ramiro. “Being at everyone could be here in person at Gillman sending a message about the importance of school everyday and working hard does pay off. I make sure I can get my education , so I can go Chevrolet in Harlingen. We want you to know going to school every day.” that we are open and would welcome you to As the names spun round and round in a gold- further in life with it.” stop by and say ‘hello’ anytime.” en-crafted raffle tumbler, there were a total of Gillman Chevrolet of Harlingen also awarded 14 prizes up for grabs. Ten students received two students who never missed a day of school In the last seven years, Gillman has awarded $210,000 worth of prizes to deserving students. $250 American Express gift cards, one student since elementary with gift cards for lifetime Specifically recognizing perfect attendance, received an iPad mini, another received a perfect attendance ó
Helping Hands HCISD students create first-of-its-kind recycling program
arlingen CISD launched a first-of-its-kind recycling initiative at Boggus Stadium, a program Cardinal and Hawk fans eagerly participated in during the 2019-20 football season.
The excitement and positivity the student volunteers brought into the stands was reflected by the support of the crowd. In fact, the fans’ enthusiasm might only been matched by the sheer amount of plastics collected by the HCISD volunteers each game.
Elementary school volunteers, accompanied by the high school students and sponsors, began collecting plastic bottles during the second and fourth quarters of all home football games. The sustainability initiative aims at encouraging the Harlingen community to participate in recycling.
During the Harlingen South Hawks game against the Rivera Raiders, the combined efforts of fans and volunteers enabled the students to collect over 80 pounds of recycling in just one night.
“We’re the inaugural class,” said Harlingen High School Senior Hannah Carney. “I think we’re the first ones (in the Valley) to do this. This starting at HCISD might spread to other districts and create a bigger change.”
“People don’t really know to recycle at football games, so when they find out, they’re really involved in it and willing to participate,” Carney, Harlingen High School South’s AP Science Club volunteer, said. “We get such a good response from both sides, and people seem to be proud of what we’re doing.”
Students stood by recycling bins and also encouraged football fans to hand over their used plastic bottles.
Carney believes this program’s monumental role in introducing recycling to the students will drive them to invoke environmentally friendly changes at home.
“Crush it. Cap it. Toss it!” an elementary student chanted one Friday night in October.
“The elementary students are still in their formative years, so this program will have an impact on them forever. They can take this
home and show their parents and encourage this in their house,” said Ellie Sanchez, a senior at Harlingen High School South. The high school students’ goal is to not only educate the onlookers in the stands on the significance of recycling but also among the younger volunteers. “They’re learning how to recycle and the process of what should be happening,” said Harlingen High School Senior Caleb Lucio. “The kids starting so young shows that they can make an impact on the earth, not just adults.” Lucio believes the program also holds an impact off the field.
"ALL THE KIDS WERE REALLY HAPPY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE COMMUNITY. KNOWING THAT WE HAVE AN IMPACT AND THAT WE CAN START A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR THE EARTH AND THE CHILDREN IS AMAZING." CALEB LUCIO
HARLINGEN H.S. 12TH GRADE
“All the kids were really happy to make a difference in the community,” he said. “Knowing that we have an impact and that we can start a brighter future for the earth and the children is amazing.” HCISD was the first school district in the Rio Grande Valley to launch this type of recycling initiative during football games. The entire community, including visitors, participated. Students from Lamar, Crockett, Bonham, Zavala and Ben Milam Elementary schools volunteered to lend a hand this past football season. Once the bottles are collected, they are stored, weighed, and sent to the Harlingen recycling center. “Plastics are derived from energy resources such as coal, petroleum and natural gas, so any material recovered is an energy savings,” according to information provided by the recycling center. What began as an idea of implementing recycling at Boggus Stadium grew and evolved into a community-wide effort to make the district and community an even better, greener place. “Remember to keep dirty containers out of your recycling bin,” according to information provided by the recycling center. “One partly eaten pizza or leftover hamburger in a bale of plastic can spoil the whole load.”
Student volunteers all knew the rules of recycling and encouraged fans to follow them. Along with plastic, other items such as cardboard, newspaper, paper, aluminum, steel, and electronics among others can be recycled. In total, Harlingen CISD recycled more than 300 pounds of plastics collected during the football games. “Such a small act can make such a big difference in the community,” Lucio said. ó
HCISD Performing Arts Conservatory growing local talent
aith Zepeda confidently raised her arms as she felt the pulse of hip-hop and traditional African music fused to create an empowering environment.
She felt the irresistible beat of Gucci Snake, a song Zepeda and other students like her danced to at the HCISD Performing Arts Center during the school year. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s when HCISD guest artist Reegan Haynes began directing the dancers across the floor inside the dance studio.
“I think we started something very special. It's only going to get bigger and better.” - Sally Navarro Harlingen CISD Fine Arts Specialist “To have a good, solid foundation as a dancer, you need to be prepared for any style,” Haynes, an AFRO FUZION choreographer, educator, and artistic director, said. “I feel like my style really prepares dancers to just be great dancers, no matter what style they decide to pursue as a specialty.”
to spend the second half of their day gaining experience through curriculum centered around the arts.
tion for these students in the theater arts.” Unsurprisingly, word about the rare artistic training opportunity spread far beyond HCISD.
“They’re actually taking ballet, tap, jazz, “There’s been a lot of interest from all over modern dance,” explained HCISD Fine Arts Texas, which is very neat — we didn’t expect Coordinator Lee Ann Ince. “The theater track is that,” said Sally Navarro, Harlingen CISD Fine taking Advanced Acting Methods. Courses that Arts Specialist. Preparing students for specialty professions in you can’t get at your regular high school campus, Along with the Conservatory’s intended the arts is exactly the purpose of HCISD’s new you can take here.” Performing Arts Conservatory, a practicum The Conservatory aims to make triple- purpose, it’s also produced another unexpected created for students enrolled in theater and threats out of its students, coaching them on outcome: “We’re also giving them selfconfidence, and building their self-esteem,” dance classes. Within the Conservatory, professional-grade dance, acting and singing. said Navarro. “It’s almost like we’re forming students are allowed to focus on careers in “We try to have the full package, and they all kind a family.” acting, modeling, and dance. of overlap, because in the industry, you need to In a Master Class during the 2019-20 school While the Conservatory offers classes taught be all three,” Ince said. year, America’s Next Top Model winner Jaslene by artistic professionals from all across the This specialized preparation is a unique Gonzales taught students how to take headshots, country, it also now affords similar Master opportunity for HCISD students. while students cheered each other on and Classes to the public. clapped, just as they had when their classmates “The purpose of the Conservatory was to The Conservatory prepares students to enter attempted bold dance moves in AFRO FUZION. provide students with resources that otherwise into theater and dance tracks during college. wouldn’t be available in this part of the state,” This attitude has created an environment Practicum students go through rigorous said Assistant Superintendent for Secondary of mutual support and encouragement for training by learning from HCISD guest artists, Education Joseph Villareal. “We don’t live near Conservatory students. from costume designers and Broadway actors Dallas, Houston, or Austin, where you have “I think that we started something very special,” to vocalists and international choreographers. theater arts districts and a community, and so Navarro said, a smile spreading across her face. Students come from their respective campuses we came up with this idea for intensive instruc- “It’s only going to get bigger and better.” ó