Category: Education

Elementary students get their first lesson in robotics

By Raul Garcia Jr.

A total of 100 Mercedes ISD migrant students from Kennedy, North, Travis and Hinojosa Elementary were given a presentation on Wednesday about robotics and aerospace engineering by local robotics expert, Heriberto Reynoso.

“It was really good and we learned a lot about robots,” said Michael Carrion, Kennedy Elementary fifth grader. “I want to build robots too.”

Carrion said he has been studying about space for two years now since starting in the third grade. He won a tyrannosaurus Rex 3D puzzle for answering Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. The puzzle is one of many educational training assembly tools Reynoso builds in Mercedes with his specialized laser cutter that is used mainly to build robot parts.

The robotics presentation was a first for the migrant student initiative in Mercedes. However the Mercedes Migrant program and the school district are very proactive according to the director. The presentation was the first of a two part series with the Reybotics Institute. On the second day Reynoso will meet with middle school students who will build a robot, a rocket and a drone on Thursday.

Reynoso told the students it takes nitrogen and oxygen to push a rocket into space. He asked the youngsters who were the first two men to walk on the Moon. A sea of little hands in the air showed the excitement and eagerness to be called on to help and answer questions from the robotics expert.

“The presentation was very effective,” said Rolando Herrera, district migrant director. “Our migrant students are involved in different initiatives and Beto was very informative of what’s upcoming and what areas our kids can be in route to.”

Reynoso said the kids are already in love with robots and are using technology and have seen it in movies. He attributes student attention to his presentations on account that all kids like robots. He said his talks about STEM is a great introduction into robotics. He continued saying it’s easy to capture the young minds by sharing my experiences and robot creation across the Valley.

“Hopefully my story acts like a driver for them to pursue the sciences and engineering fields,” said Heriberto Reynoso, the Robotics expert. “Theses students were quite receptive and in love with the idea of STEM as it is.”

As a college student he earned an internship opportunity with NASA where he did computer programming and worked on the Mars Rover. Reynoso earned a college degree from the University of Texas- Brownsville in computer science. Prior to that he had began building robots out of spare parts at home when he was 14-years-old. And it has become a passion of his to help students build robots and get into a career in robotics and aerospace engineering.

Reynoso partnered his business Reybotics with the Mercedes based nonprofit Texas Valley Communities Foundation in 2013 to continue engaging students for college readiness and a career in STEM. The non profit’s ENCORE program partners with Mercedes and area districts to give lessons in STEM.

Educators learn exciting ways to engage students in STEM at HESTEC

Edcouch-Elsa High School teachers Oliver Sabedra and Felicia Urbina learned about ways to teach students about the STEM fields during HESTEC Educator Day on Monday. And, they got to play with robots during an engineering breakout session. UTRGV Photo by Josué Esparza)

Edcouch-Elsa High School teachers Oliver Sabedra and Felicia Urbina learned about ways to teach students about the STEM fields during HESTEC Educator Day on Monday. And, they got to play with robots during an engineering breakout session. UTRGV Photo by Josué Esparza)

By Cheryl Taylor

EDINBURG, TEXAS – OCT. 5, 2015 – HESTEC 2015 created a world of wonders on its first full day of activities, during a series of special breakout sessions dealing with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Clorandy Taborda, a PSJA North High School science teacher, was among hundreds of Rio Grande Valley educators who attended HESTEC Educator Day on Monday, Oct. 5, on the Edinburg Campus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Tabordy chose the NASA workshop on teaching heat transfer for his first session.

“This will be a good way for my students to learn about heat transfer with a hands-on activity,” Tabordy said. “They will like this way of figuring out this concept. I’m glad I came.”

He said he had been to HESTEC Educator Day in the distant past, and was glad to attend this year, grateful his registration fee was paid by GEAR UP. PSJA North High School is a Texas Education Service Center Region One GEAR UP campus.

The heat transfer session was led by Brandon Hargis, a NASA education specialist for educator professional development. A Texas State University faculty member, Hargis is on loan to NASA for five years.

“Remember to impress the process upon your students – brainstorm, design, build, test, review, redesign, test, and keep the cycle going,” he said.

Hargis was assisted by Alicia Cortez, program manager for NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS).

“Educators are one of NASA’s special audiences,” Cortez said. “We create content and provide opportunities to help them teach STEM. We encourage K-16 teachers to refer to the great resources available on the NASA website.”

Amanda Knies, a sixth-grade math and science teacher from the Lasara Independent School District, said her first breakout session was informative, covering the numerous career options that intertwine directly or indirectly with STEM.

“Students have many different career options now. And we have so many talented students. We are trying to recruit and keep our students here in the Valley,” she said. “There are so many more opportunities, no matter what you want to be – a SCUBA diver, a scientist, a doctor or a nature photographer. Students can and should look at their broader career options.”

Knies also attended “El Nino: A Driver of Global Weather and Climate,” a session conducted by Tim Smith, meteorologist from KRGV TV Channel 5, and Alex Garcia, meteorologist from FOX 29 News in San Antonio. Smith and Garcia have been teaming up for about 15 years to provide educational opportunities to educators and school children.

“You teachers are on the front lines of education,” Garcia said. “We know you want to go over concepts that students can relate to, such as El Niño. Everyone asks about El Niño, and kids hear the term. We have some ideas to share with you – ways for the students to use various websites in the classroom to learn about ocean-water temperatures and uncover the mysteries of what El Niño really is and why it occurs.”

Knies said the weather presentation was “awesome,” and she plans to use what she learned from Garcia and Smith in both her science and math classes.

This is the first year UTRGV has directed the weeklong HESTEC conference, but this is the 14th anniversary for the event

Gov. Abbott, astronaut Harris, encourage students during HESTEC’s Student Leadership Day

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at UTRGV during HESTEC’s Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. He urged students to meet challenges head on and determine their own destiny. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at UTRGV during HESTEC’s Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. He urged students to meet challenges head on and determine their own destiny. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

By Jennifer L. Berghom

EDINBURG, TEXAS – OCT. 6, 2015 – The 1,200 high school students who attended HESTEC’s Student Leadership Day expected to hear about the many opportunities that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers could offer them.

But no one expected a spelling quiz.

Gov. Greg Abbott asked the teenagers how to spell the word “money.” In unison, students at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Fieldhouse shouted it out.


The governor, however, corrected them.

“The way you spell money,” Abbott said, “is S-T-E-M. The reality is, your focus on STEM education and career is going to put you on the pathway to making more money when you graduate from college.”

Even more important than making money, he said, is obtaining the skills and training that will allow them to change the world around them with their ideas and innovations. They all have the
potential to create new technologies and inventions that will revolutionize the world they live in, but it will take hard work and they will face obstacles along the way.

“You will face many challenges, but those challenges don’t determine your destiny. You do,” he said. “So wherever your paths may lead, the reality is, it’s not going to matter if you end up rich or poor or what you do for a living. What will matter is the unique fingerprint that you leave on this world.”

Students also heard from UTRGV Founding President Guy Bailey and Region One GEAR UP Director Dr. Tina Atkins. Each encouraged the students to go to college, preferably UTRGV.


Students said they enjoyed learning about the programs UTRGV has to offer, as well as the variety of jobs available at various organizations.

J.J. Castillo, a 17-year-old junior at Santa Rosa High School, said he was glad to hear about the range of job opportunities at NASA.

“People think it’s just about astronauts, but there are many other fields you can go into,” said Castillo, who is interested in studying business administration when he goes to college. “There’s accounting, there’s marketing, there’s everything you can possibly do at NASA. It’s just amazing; I didn’t think you could do that many things.”

Andrea Garcia, 16, a junior at Lyford High School, said it was the nurses who cared for her infant son two years ago who inspired her to pursue a career in nursing.

Her son, Michael, was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s disease, a condition which affects the large intestine and impedes bowel function.

“I was there in the hospital, in and out of the hospital, until he was almost 1 year old, and I loved the nurses. It just inspired me … I want to help people like they helped my son,” she said.

Garcia said she appreciated learning about all the different STEM-related careers and receiving advice on going to college.

“It’s great what these people are doing to help us out today,” she said.

After attending breakout sessions, where they learned about STEM-related career prospects, students heard from Elise Longpree, director of Community Investment Corporate Brand and Reputation for Time Warner, and from José Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.


Dr. Bernard Harris, former astronaut and founder of the Bernard Harris Foundation, delivered the afternoon keynote address.

Harris, the first African American to walk in space and a medical doctor by trade, started the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, a two-week enrichment program for middle school students interested in the STEM fields. UTRGV’s legacy institution, The University of Texas-Pan American, has been a host site for the camp since 2009.

Harris shared stories about his missions with NASA and the work that goes into preparing for space travel. He also talked about his love of science fiction, and how many technologies that were imagined in movies, television shows and other works of science fiction have now become realities.

“Start thinking about those technologies, those ideas, those solutions that haven’t been invented yet,” Harris said. “Some of you will be the next Steve Jobs or the next Bill Gates. Who knows what you can do? Only you know that.”

Harris told the students they were born with great potential, and unique skills and talents, so they can do anything they want to do in life. They were also born for a reason, he said: to use their intelligence, talents and skills for the benefit of themselves and others.

“If you’re doing it, you’re not only doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for the rest of us,” he said. “If you don’t accomplish that thing or those things that you were meant to do, then it won’t only be a travesty to you, but you will miss out, the rest of us will miss out, on the gift that you had.”

HESTEC continues Wednesday, Oct. 7, with Latina Day, when more than 1,000 teenage girls and their mothers are expected to visit the UTRGV Edinburg Campus to learn about opportunities available to them if they go to college and pursue STEM careers.

Area middle schools begin tobacco prevention curriculum

With a new school year in full effect the Tobacco Prevention Specialists Quincy Bonilla and Rafael Cepeda from the UNIDAD Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition at Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas are looking forward to implementing Project Towards No Tobacco Use (Project TNT), an evidence-based curriculum, at La Joya ISD and PSJA ISD middle school campuses.

By the conclusion of project TNT, students should be able to state accurate information about the course of tobacco-related addiction and disease, the consequences of using or not using tobacco, and the actual prevalence of tobacco use among peers. This research based curriculum will aid students to demonstrate active listening skills, assertive refusal skills, effective communication, general assertive skills, self-esteem building techniques, and tobacco-use-specific cognitive coping skills.

Prevention of tobacco use among teens is not a casual business or fruitless endeavor- we can prevent deaths from occurring. Project Towards No tobacco use is a prevention program that works. If other middle schools in Hidalgo County want to incorporate this free curriculum in their campus they could call 956-787-0004 for more information.

UNIDAD TPCC is a coalition effort of Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas, located in Pharr, Texas. The Coalition was established to empower Hidalgo County to affect individual and social change through cooperation, sharing and coordination of resources focused on preventing and reducing the illegal and harmful use of tobacco products. The TPCC’s goals are to prevent tobacco use among young people, promote compliance and support adequate enforcement of federal, state, and local tobacco laws, increase cessation among young people and adults, eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke, reduce tobacco use among populations with the highest burden of tobacco-related health disparities, develop and maintain statewide capacity for comprehensive tobacco prevention and control.

High school graduate publishes children’s book


Local Weslaco resident Victoria Moreno published her first children’s book, “Arbez the Friendly Zebra” this year. The story is about a zebra trying to make friends on a farm. Her brother Leroy Moreno Jr illustrated the book.

By Raul Garcia Jr.

Most people will never write a book in their lifetime. One recent high school graduate was determined to get it done before starting college.

Arbez the friendly Zebra is a children’s book written by Victoria Moreno and was published by Outskirts Press in April of this year. She said it took her a lot of writing over the years and help from her brother Leroy Moreno Jr. who illustrated the book.

“I wanted something different where kids could say — Wow,” the author said. “This is the first time I read something like this.”

Her book details the social problem of bullying through the experience of a zebra that does rope tricks. Moreno hopes the book will help teach children not to bully other students at school. In the story Arbez the zebra quickly becomes the outsider at a farm and found himself unwelcome by all the animals because he is different.

“The book is helpful and it teaches kids not to be so hard on somebody,” the author said.

Moreno recalls letting her imagination run wild at her grandfather’s farm. At a young age she would often wonder what it would be like if the farm animals could speak and later she turned them into characters and started writing it all down. The zebra became her favorite and because it was so different from all the other animals she related social differences and found the basis of her book to not judge someone because they are different.

“I do plan to continue more stories along the way,” Moreno said. “It’s something that I enjoy doing.”

The entering college freshman is considering psychology as her major but she hasn’t completely taken business off the table. After all her family owns the Moreno’s Feed and Pet Stores in Weslaco and Donna where she has spent time working.

The book is available at Moreno’s Feed and Pet Stores in Weslaco and can be ordered through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.