School district holds groundbreaking ceremony for life skills house

HARLINGEN — Meredith Brownell thanked everyone for building a house where her son and his classmates can learn skills of everyday living.

“He’s a life skills student at Harlingen High School South and he has Down syndrome,” Brownell said Tuesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Harlingen school district’s Transition Academy.

She and other local dignitaries, including Manny Vela, CEO of Valley Baptist Medical Center, and Harlingen Superintendent Art Cavazos, gathered for the ceremony at 2000 N. 21st St.

Work began on the $770,000 project a couple of months ago; the wooden frame stood bright and fresh in the morning sun.

“Today is an incredible day at HCISD,” Cavazos said. “It really epitomizes this idea of a full school community. Keep in mind that every child has value in HCISD. We want people to come and experience HCISD.”

The facility will house dens, a living area, a bathroom, kitchen and a dining area where life skills students can learn specific tasks.

The Harlingen district hopes to have it ready within six months, said Joseph Villarreal, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

“We’re excited,” Villarreal said. “We’re finally able to see this to fruition. There’s a lot of planning that’s gone into it. Several committees have been composed to make sure that we do a great job with this facility.”

Brownell is on the Transition Academy Committee.

“I’m just so honored to be here today,” she said. “I’ve worked with the design team committee for the past year on the Transition Academy and it’s just so wonderful because we talked about for months and months.”

Her son, a junior, will enjoy the fruits of this labor.

“This is going to be something that not only my son benefits from but so many other students in our district,” she said. “It will carry him through his 21st birthday.”

She was excited about what her son would learn there.

“They will be spending half of their day at the house working on life skills, grooming themselves, cleaning up around the house, doing dishes, doing laundry,” she said. “Then they will spend the other half of the day at a job site with a job coach.”

Vela congratulated the district on this accomplishment.

The Harlingen School District held a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Tuesday for the Transition Academy currently under construction. The Transition Academy will focus on addressing the needs of students with special needs for life after high school.

“It’s great to see the progressive nature of this school district and that it has the foresight to create a Transition Academy,” said Vela, who has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, part of the autism spectrum disorder.

“The Transition Academy will allow students the opportunity to develop those life skills before they leave the school district,” he said.

The facility is located next to the Harlingen School of Health Professions.

twhitehead@valleystar.com