Three PSJA ISD students, best friends, selected to represent the Valley at NYC Down Syndrome Buddy Walk

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Texas Border Business

PHARR – Three Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA) students and longtime best friends were selected to attend the 2019 New York City Buddy Walk. The annual event honors and celebrates individuals with down syndrome in communities across the nation. 

The students, Gabriela Vasquez, Jailen Guajardo, and Nahitza Hurtado, are currently enrolled in the PSJA Pathways Toward Independence Program (PSJA PTI) which 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. 

According to Elsa Cortina, mother of Nahitza, the teens submitted a photo of their high school graduation to the National Down Syndrome Society’s Time Square Video Contest which highlights children, teens, and adults with down syndrome playing alongside friends and family. The teens’ photo featuring them in their cap and gowns was selected from over 3,000 entries. 

“We are so excited and happy for them,” expressed Cortina. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” 

The mother shared that shortly after graduating from McAllen and Sharyland school districts, the three girls enrolled in the PSJA PTI Program after learning the opportunities available. Through partnerships with South Texas College, students in the PSJA  PTI program can earn Continuing Education Certificates in Employability Skills, Basic Floral Design, Basic Cake Decorating and Basic Photography and even intern at local businesses. Since the program started, students have been able to take these skills to local employers as those mentioned and other businesses such as: At Home, Best Buy, Dairy Queen, Goodwill, Regency Hall, Pro Image Sports, Peter Piper Pizza, Pharr Memorial Library, Vany’s Flower Shop, Philly 77, and Quinta Mazatlan, to name a few.

“We loved what the PSJA district offers for students,” said Cortina. “Nahitza is learning to be independent, going to different job sites, and she’s even learning how to cook!” 

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According to PSJA PTI Director Veronica Quintana knowing her students will be representing their district and the Valley is an honor. 

“We are so excited to have them be a part of our PSJA Family,” said Quintana. “We can’t wait to see what they are going to become.” 

The PSJA PTI Program has increased in popularity over the recent years as a successful initiative ensuring special needs students receive independent living and employability skills. Other school districts have visited the program in hopes of replicating it. It has also been featured by the Texas Commissioner of Education in recent statewide publications highlighting successful educational programs. The program has accepted over 20 new students this school year after they graduated from neighboring districts excited to start this new chapter and continuing education opportunity at PSJA.

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