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Harlingen CISD held a groundbreaking Oct. 13, 2020, for the Transition Academy, a home that will further prepare students with special needs for life after high school.

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Joseph Villarreal opened the groundbreaking ceremony with a famous quote.

“Thomas Edison once said, ‘There is a way to do it better — find it,’” Villarreal said. “Well, HCISD found it and it is manifested in what will be a beautiful and functional home and learning space.”

Although the school district already provides great life skill classes, HCISD dreamed of providing even greater opportunities for students with special needs to learn life and employability skills in a real-life setting.

“I remember a few years back I had lunch with [Superintendent Dr. Art] Cavazos and we talked about something like this,” Board President Eladio Jaimez said. “I told him, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have something like this?’ And he goes, ‘We are working on it,’ and that is the thing about HCISD. They are always working on it; they are always coming up with something else to meet the needs of our students — in this case, those of our special needs population.”

HCISD parent and Transition Academy committee member Meredith Brownell shared her dual perspective as an employee and a parent of a child with special needs.

“I am certain I speak for many parents when I say that I would like to see a seamless transition from high school to post high school in a structured setting,” Brownell said. “We look forward to witnessing these young men and women develop life skills such as being able to dress and groom themselves properly and make decisions about money. I hope to see them work on daily living skills around the house such as cooking, doing laundry, and cleaning dishes.”

Brownell also mentioned how the Transition Academy committee was looking into partnering with South Texas College for a certification process that would help the students of the Transition Academy with employability skills.

Manny Vela, CEO of Valley Baptist Health System and parent of an HCISD alumnus, mentioned how great this academy would have been for his son when he was in school. He also talked about how HCISD and Valley Baptist both create hope.

“What we do collectively is we create hope,” Vela said. “On the healthcare side, it is the hope of getting well and of living life with wellness. Here at the school district, it is the hope that every single child who comes through this district leaves this district with opportunities that would not exist but for the opportunities that were created here.”

Cavazos thanked all the individuals and organizations involved with the project, including the HCISD Board of Trustees, the Harlingen Education Area Foundation, Transition Academy committee members, school district administrators, L & A Design owners, and a couple of other guests present at the event.

He explained why the Transition Academy was built on this site, across from Harlingen School of Health Professions and next to Memorial Middle School.

“Special needs children already have some things they have to overcome,” Cavazos said. “Location shouldn’t be one of them and opportunity should not be decreased. Our students can appreciate our Transition Academy. They can realize that we are surrounded by all different types of people of all kinds of abilities and that we are one school community.”

After the speeches, school administrators, committee members, and two future Transition Academy students, Melissa Berrones from Harlingen High School and Danielle Green from Harlingen High School South, grabbed a shovel and broke ground.

Construction of the Transition Academy will be completed in spring 2021.

What part of the HCISD Transition Academy are you most looking forward to?#JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.