Connecting with students; Ag teacher shares love of animals

Kristen Rike teaches veterinary science for the Harlingen school district. Courtesy Photo

HARLINGEN — Dog sick? Call the vet.

Want to become a vet? Sign up for Kristen Rike’s veterinary science class.

“What I enjoy the most about this particular subject matter is it has a direct connection,” said Rike, who teaches the coursework at both Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South.

“I’m an agriculture science teacher so it’s directly related to animal care and husbandry,” Rike said. “But what I like to share with my students and teach them is that they themselves can walk out of high school with a certification as a veterinary assistant.”

It’s a relatively new opportunity for students. The coursework, part of the Harlingen school district’s career and technology program, allows students to earn their veterinary assistant certifications.

That certification requires students to put in 200 classroom hours and 300 practicum hours.

The first cohort of students graduated just this year, and 13 students passed their exams — in the midst of the pandemic and online learning. Fortunately, they’d all completed their practicum hours before the lockdown.

“That was a challenge,” Rike, 37, said. “We got through a few obstacles as far as using zoom to have tutoring sessions.”

Rike, a 2001 graduate of Harlingen South, gave a shout-out to the students’ dedication to the program and the certification.

“I think that drives them more than anything,” she said. “They know there’s a career and industry-based certificate dangling at the end of this road, so a lot of them don’t just push it to the wayside and say, ‘Eh, it’s OK.’”

Perhaps one of the more alluring aspects of the program is the chance to make a decent paycheck straight out of high school.

Many of her students are pursuing degrees in veterinary medicine; however, the certification will open doors to employment at higher than minimum wage.

But there’s more to it than just the money.

“Most students have a cat or dog or some type of companion animal,” she said. “So teaching them basic care and maintenance of these animals not only helps them in their own personal life, but those students who are primarily in this program want to pursue a career in the veterinary field.”

Rike, the mother of a 10-year-old son, is currently working on her master’s degree with the hope of becoming an administrator.