Texas Border Business
PHARR – Surrounded by dozens of students excited to be back at school, Carolina Vallejo stood in the middle of the Berta Palacios Elementary gymnasium beaming with joy as she led the class in a game of frisbee during the 2019 PSJA Back to School Enrichment Camps held Aug. 19-22, 2019.
“Ready, set, go!” she exclaimed sending dozens of frisbees flying into the air at her command.
Matching her students’ excitement, she gave them a proud high-five as they returned with discs in hand.
For Vallejo, this was her first official day working at Palacios Elementary as a teacher’s assistant. Her lifelong dream of working in education had finally come true.
Like thousands of educators and support staff starting the new school year, Vallejo is ready to make a difference in students’ lives. Despite being diagnosed with an intellectual disability at a young age and having a speech impairment, the 22-year-old has not let her condition stop her from pursuing her dreams.
With the support of her family and school district, Vallejo graduated from the PSJA’s Pathways Toward Independence Program (PSJA PTI) in May 2019. As a student in the PSJA PTI she was able to earn numerous certifications from South Texas College (STC) including Employability Skills, Photography, Cake Decorating and Floral Design. These opportunities along with on the job training over the last year prepared her for her current position at Palacios Elementary.
As part of the PSJA Special Education Department, the PSJA PTI Program promotes the continued development of vocational training skills and/or functional independent living skills to assist special needs students ages 14 to 21 in becoming emergent adults in the community.
“Having her presence here brings a lot of joy to our students and our staff,” said Berta Palacios Elementary Principal Michelle Cardoza-Fox. “She plays a key role in our campus. Carolina brings enthusiasm, happiness, and passion. She always wanted to be a teacher so this is a true fit for her. She comes in here and loves students.”
Through her role at the campus, Vallejo will be assisting Coach Veronica Muñiz during PE classes two days a week. According to the coach, Vallejo has been assisting her and other teachers at Palacios Elementary through the PSJA PTI Program over the last year.
“She is an inspiration for all students. It’s beautiful to see that everyone is equal in our district,” said Coach Muñiz. “Carolina is very special to me. Seeing her grow makes me so proud. It warms my heart to know that I can be a positive role model for her.”
While Vallejo could not find the words to express her emotion, her sister Araceli Vallejo was happy to speak on her behalf.
“She always wanted to be a teacher. Growing up we would always tell her not to give up,” said Araceli Vallejo. “Thank you to PSJA for helping my sister live her dream. I am really grateful to everyone who has helped her along the way.”