Harlingen CISD graduates students college, career, and community ready by preparing them for their futures through strategically crafted curriculum and programs.
That’s why the district created its Academies — educational programming and pathways offered to high school students.
The district’s first academy, the Apprenticeship Academy, provides students with an opportunity to earn industry certifications at no cost.
The Apprenticeship Academy offers courses and certifications in architectural design, carpentry, electrical, masonry, plumbing and pipefitting, welding, and HVAC and sheet metal.
The industry certifications are recognized by employers across the state and country. Students obtaining certifications by completing a series of high school courses and passing exams are ready to enter the workforce upon graduation from high school.
In the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning pathway within the Apprenticeship Academy, students acquire knowledge and skills in safety, principals of HVAC theory, and begin hands-on training through the installation of HVAC and refrigeration equipment.
Students in the HVAC Technology II course practiced fusing copper pipes recently, a skill necessary to maintain and install air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings.
“I like doing hands-on things,” said Harlingen High School South senior Santos Torres. “I don’t like the idea of having to work in an office at a desk. After high school, I plan on continuing in this industry.”
Torres, a student in the Apprenticeship Academy, decided to enroll in the HVAC & Sheet Metal pathway to “try something different.”
The classes, he said, proved to be what he was searching for as a student.
“I like this program because it gives me new things to do, and it teaches me things I didn’t know before,” he said after brazing two pieces of copper pipe together with his classmates. “I’ve always been interested in working with tools and around new environments every day.”
Torres plans to attend college to further his career in the HVAC industry.
To succeed in HVAC, students must want to persevere, he said.
“This class is fun, and I think other people should try it,” Torres said. “It will show you something different that you didn’t know before.”
Completing the certifications and the program are not a cakewalk, however.
“You need to study because the tests aren’t easy,” Torres said, noting that the hands-on component of the class keeps him motivated and on his toes.
When Torres and his classmates worked on the brazing project, they engaged in a friendly competition to see who could do it best.
The copper pipes in air conditioning systems must be joined together with heat in a way that ensures they will sustain pressure and temperature for years. Not all technicians have the same skills.
Harlingen CISD, however, is training future technicians with the skills necessary to provide clients and customers with top-quality workmanship.
“It doesn’t cost you anything within HCISD to become industry certified — just your time and effort,” said HVAC teacher Martin Villareal, himself a former student of the school district.
Villarreal spoke with middle school students recently as part of the district’s efforts to educate the incoming freshman about the opportunities offered in high school.
“In HVAC, you gotta be part carpenter, welder, pipefitter, and electrician,” he told the students. “The more you know, the more valuable you are to future employers.”
Villarreal began working in the HVAC industry from an early age when he worked for his father’s independently run business.
After working in the industry for decades, he decided to teach students all he has learned throughout his years as an HVAC expert.
“I try to push our students as much as I can,” Villarreal said. “Through teaching, it allows me to pass this on to the next generation.”
HVAC is just one of the seven pathways within the Apprenticeship Academy.
Within the electrical pathway, students learn to install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communication lines, lighting, and control systems in homes and businesses.
Students in the electrical pathway graduate with National Center for Construction Education and Research certifications in the core curriculum and electrical Level 1, certifications also offered at community college.
On average, the cost of one semester of junior college or trade school amounts to about $1,800. At HCISD, however, students have the opportunity to complete courses offered at junior college and technical trade schools at no cost to students or their parents.
“Here at HCISD, we are super proud to provide our students with choices and opportunities necessary for long-term success,” Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos said. “Specifically, our Apprenticeship Academy has been graduating students with nationally recognized certifications and knowledge they need to enter into the workforce.”
Apprenticeship Academy teachers, as well as HCISD administration, meets with industry experts biannually to ensure the district is preparing students for the future workforce.
The teachers, administrators, and industry experts formed an Apprenticeship Academy Committee focused on bridging the gap between K-12 education and the workforce.
The committee met in November to discuss the needs of the current workforce.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino lauded the district’s efforts and provided feedback about new industries making their way into the Rio Grande Valley.
Companies, he said, are in search of local talent who can provide top-quality work.
Industry experts from reputable contractors such as SpawGlass and organizations such as the Harlingen Manufacturers Association are members of the committee.
“We are immensely grateful to our committee members for volunteering to provide our teachers and administrators with important feedback about our Apprenticeship Academy,” Cavazos said. “Our students are on the path to success, and we will continue evolving to meet the needs of the future by educating our students with the skills necessary to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and be creative.”
High school students may enroll in the academy courses at their home campus. The courses may be added to their school day schedule.
For more information about the Apprenticeship Academy’s seven pathways and courses, visit www.hcisd.org/academies or contact HCISD directly at (956) 430-9530.