EDINBURG, RGV – The project director for PATHS at Region One Education Service Center says counterparts in other parts of Texas are amazed by the collaboration that exists in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Eliza Alvardo gave an exclusive interview to the Rio Grande Guardian at the kickoff for PATHS, which stands for Pathways Aligned To Health Sciences. The conference took place at DHR Health and more than 200 students from ten local school districts were in attendance.

“When we have met with other parts of the state they are amazed that we are able to collaborate and bring in industry, workforce, public education, higher education and really work together,” Alvarado said.

Dr. Eliza Alvarado
Dr. Eliza Alvarado

“I think it is a testament to the fact that we have a lot of work to do and we cannot wait for somebody to bring us models. We have to create our own models.”

The PATHS project was founded by the Texas Education Agency, with funding through a federal Perkins grant. Alvarado said the project provides assistance to districts in understanding the healthcare programs available to students, along with the kinds of curricular and extra-curricular activities needed in order for students to succeed in those programs.

Partners in the PATHS Project include: Region One ESC, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance, the Health Science Institute at Renaissance, Performance Therapeutics, and the following ten school districts: Harlingen CISD, Hidalgo ISD, La Joya ISD, Lasara ISD, Lyford ISD, PSJA ISD, Roma ISD, South Texas ISD, Vanguard Academy, and Valley View ISD.

“The great thing about the PATHS project is that it stands for Pathways Aligned To Health Sciences. So it is not just about doctors or nurses. It is really about health sciences in general,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado said the project will include conferences, work-based learning experiences, and cyber-mentoring, with visits to participating school districts. Through the project, Alvarado said, students will receive information on numerous career pathways and visits to different higher education institutions, such as South Texas College, Texas A&M University, and UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“We are so excited to have so many participating school districts. We know this is going to be a great project,” she said.

Although PATHS is a one-year grant from TEA, Alvarado hopes the state agency will see great success in the Valley and continue to fund it.

“TEA had an RFP (request for proposals) out for different grants. They awarded nine in the state. Our region actually got two of the grants out of the nine. TEA is trying to form a pathway network and build upon everybody’s work, so we can take the lessons learned and go to other regions and share these types of models,” Alvarado said.

“The grant is for one year. But what TEA is seeing, especially when they did the site visit, is that this region really has a built in network that can benefit from a multi-year program. So, we are hopeful we can apply again. I think the work will speak for itself and certainly the collaborations and the districts that are here will benefit from it.”

Alvarado said working with various partners, students will be given “a menu of options”  to help them fine the best career pathway.

“Not every student will pass all the entrance exams so they need to have a backup. If they do want to be, let’s say, a nurse, they can start as a CNA, they can start as a medical  assistant, they can start on the floor as a medical billing and coding. We will be offering them different options for them, as they move forward in their career.”

Right now our primary partner for all the different activities is DHR Health, Alvarado said.

Asked about the kickoff conference, Alvarado said: “The goal of this conference was to expose the students to the many different careers in the health science field. We are fortunate to have DHR Health as one of our partners. We hope that the kids get an idea that not everybody starts at the same position but that they can, through different pathways get to the career choice that they would like.”

Alvarado pointed out that sometimes, students need a job while they are in college. And they need to be able to finance college.

“The way that the pathways work is that a student can get a certification, they can get a better paying job and they can go to school for nursing, for physical therapy, or for other things. It is important that we relay the message to students that credentials are important and in being able to have stackable credentials that lead you on a pathway is important for your career.”

Alvarado said that while most people think of doctors and nurses when they think about a healthcare profession, there are so many other options.

“When I started this work I had no idea how many different physicians there are. Just in our home town university there are over 42 different degrees. You can do medical assistant, certified nursing assistant, physical therapists, physical therapy assistant, an MA, work in the office, there is a lot of need for medical billing and coding, pharmacists, phlebotomy, it just goes on and on.”

Alvarado added: “In order to run a hospital it really takes a machine and everybody is an integral part of this machine. In order to provide our community with the best customer service, we have to have the best people doing every type of job, not just the doctor job.”

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian’s Shon Gonzalez assisted with this story from Edinburg, Texas.