The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley signed an agreement, during a committee meeting in December, to redefine the Phoenix experience at the Harlingen School of Health Professions.
“About a decade or so ago, we sat in a committee meeting much like this one, and we brought the concept of HSHP forward,” Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Innovation Veronica Kortan said. “We thought, with the landscape of what the medical community looks like, wouldn’t it be phenomenal if we could create an opportunity for students who are interested in a medical profession? Wouldn’t it be great to create a campus that would be solely focused on that? And so here we are into our eighth year at the Harlingen School of Health Professions.”
The school district and the university have come up with a plan that will directly connect Harlingen School of Health Profession students to learning opportunities at UTRGV as they prepare for careers in the health professions.
“We are so excited to have this opportunity,” Board President Gerry Fleuriet said. “I think of how the valley is flourishing at this moment where a year ago, at this time, we were focusing on suffering and survival and today we are talking about growth, opportunity, and taking our students to the next step.”
One of the components of redefining the experience for HSHP students will start with adapting curriculum and instruction.
“Beginning in the spring, we are going to take a cohort of teachers who are going to do something very different,” Kortan said. “They are going to work across all content areas to focus on a unit all about diabetes prevention. So, imagine what kind of instructional experiences that is going to bring to our students.”
Other components of the plan include preparing students for post-secondary success and putting them at the front of the line of opportunity.
“They are with us from grades 8-12, but our goal is to prepare them adequately for the 13th year,” Kortan said. “They are no doubt going to have a rigorous and very engaging curriculum, but the experiences that our students are going to go through will help them to build a resume that will be like no other.”
According to the plan, HSHP students will have educational experiences at UTRGV beginning in eighth grade.
“There are several things that I like about this plan,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said. “First of all, it starts early, so you start in time to do it right and have the appropriate preparation. The second thing I like is that it’s experiential. Until you see some doctors and nurses at work, you don’t know whether that’s really what you want to do. Another important thing about this project is that it is cumulative, one thing builds on another. It’s a great program. The potential it has for helping students identify the right pathway and move forward in a very productive manner is tremendous. It’s an honor for us to be part of it. There’s a great team of people working on this. Every time we’ve worked with Harlingen, we’ve had great partners. So, we look forward to getting started.”
Beginning in eighth grade, HSHP students will be introduced to all the possibilities that UTRGV has to offer. During their sophomore year, students will prepare for dual enrollment.
Between their sophomore and junior year, students will take part in a summer bridge program and get to spend time at the UTRGV campus.
“I am amazed by this program,” 2021 UTRGV Medical School graduate Dr. Adrian Barrera said. “I know when I was in high school, I didn’t get that type of guidance. At 17, I wanted to get out of the Valley. When I was pushing 30, I realized the Valley has so many resources that I took for granted, and I was blessed with the opportunity to study medicine here. I am very hopeful for this program; I think a lot of good can come from it. Whether it be nurturing those talents and interests or finding out that you don’t want to go into the field, it’s a good thing either way.”
During their junior year, students will have an opportunity to host a community health fair, and during their senior year, they will take part in a medical symposium to showcase their passions.
“This transformation can make things better,” HCISD Board Member Dr. Nolan Perez said. “It can create better alignment with the workforce, with the university, and our partners. This will help students explore and inspire them. We all know that talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”
HCISD hopes to begin introducing students, who are interested, to the health professions at an earlier age.
“Why not start earlier than eighth grade,” Superintendent Dr. Alicia Noyola said. “Why not give our students this opportunity to explore and really find what they love? That way, by the time they hit eighth grade, they can start to narrow that focus. And so that work is coming. We are in the process of identifying a middle school that will feed into our Harlingen School of Health Professions and start building those experiences even earlier for our students. We are super excited about what’s to come.”