First cohort: Veterinary students receive certifications

Courtesy Photo The Harlingen school district’s first cohort of veterinary assistant students received their certifications earlier this week.

HARLINGEN — They knew they were ahead of themselves, but had no idea how far.

The Harlingen school district’s first cohort of veterinary assistant students are breathing a sigh of relief now after receiving their certifications earlier this week.

When the pandemic hit, they wondered if they’d be left stranded and two years of training would be for naught. After all, the campuses closed and all classes went online, which was OK for academics, but what about the trade curriculum which emphasizes hands-on instruction?

No worries. They’d already put in all their practicums hours the previous year, said Raul Alvarez, director of career and technical education for the Harlingen school district.

“Instead of having it their senior year, what we did — and this is prior to the pandemic — we actually started doing the practicum in their 11th grade year,” Alvarez said.

They finished their practicum last summer, long before anyone heard anything about COVID or a pandemic.

“A benefit to us was when the pandemic hit, these kids had already banked all these practicum hours they needed,” Alvarez said.

And so 15 students were able to take their veterinary assistant exams last month, and 13 received their certificates this week.

“I’m really happy, like all the hard work paid off,” said Alyssa Morales, 18, who plans to join the military before attending college to study veterinary science. She just graduated from Harlingen High School South.

“This was two years of my high school career, so I was really scared when the pandemic hit and I learned we wouldn’t be going back to school,” she said. “I was scared they weren’t going to let us test and that was up in the air for a good while.”

Likewise, Emily Marquez was glad she could bring her studies to a positive conclusion.

“It’s been a really great experience, especially in the middle of what’s happening right now,” said the Harlingen High School graduate.

“It’s such an honor to still be able to receive it,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hard work in the past two years that we’ve been working towards this goal.”

She looks forward to gaining employment working for a veterinarian in College Station while studying at Texas A&M University to become a veterinarian herself.

Kristen Rike, agriculture science teacher, congratulated all her students on their success.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment considering these seniors have been through a lot as far as not having a true graduation and still pushing through,” she said.

She admired their drive to come back after graduation to take their exams.

“It was an honor to me that I had instilled into them to still carry this through,” she said.

The students put in 200 classroom hours and 300 practicum hours, she said.