Former PSJA student Joe Gonzalez who dropped out of school and was persuaded to comeback as part of the Countdown to Zero dropout recovery effort. He received an HVC certificate for repair and maintenance of air conditioners. Gonzalez now works for PSJA.

PHARR, RGV – Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District celebrated their 10th year anniversary for their dropout recovery program, Countdown to Zero. Since its initiation in 2007 by Daniel King, superintendent of schools in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, the program has been replicated throughout the region, state and the nation.

Every year, during the four Saturdays in September, the community comes together to encourage students between the ages of 14 and 26 that dropped out in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) area to return to school. Narciso Garcia, deputy superintendent for administration at PSJA Independent School District (ISD) said mayors from the tricity area, board members, elected officials, and schools administrators as well as teachers are also active in these events.

“The first thing between one human being and another is a smile,” Garcia said. “A smile can go a long way to encourage someone to come back and showing someone that you care. Some people see this as a show. Well, it is a show. It’s a show of compassion, a show of love [and] a show of caring. I think the for last 10 years, we’ve shown our compassion to others by encouraging them to come back and get them on the right track to complete high school and [obtain] a certificate for college.”

For the last 10 years, Countdown to Zero attracted several school districts outside the state of Texas to the College, Career & Technology Academy (CCTA). Garcia said this school focuses on their 18 to 26-year-old students from around the community to finish school.

“Places from as far as the east coast, the west coast and central Texas [came to visit our campus],” Garcia said. “Not only around the nation, but from around the state and the region.”

This year, the program’s success rate is at a one percent dropout rate. Garcia said one year the percentage was as low as .08 percent.

“Our goal is always zero percent,” Garcia said. “[Currently,] in a student body of about 32,000, approximately 200 students did not return. [Since the beginning of September,] there are still 130 left, which are the most difficult cases.”

One testimony includes Joe Gonzalez, an individual who should have graduated in 2008, but dropped out. Gonzalez returned to school and graduated in 2012 from CCTA. He received his high school diploma and a certification in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Garcia said Gonzalez is currently working for PSJA ISD on the 46 different campuses.

In attendance was Eduardo Andres “Eddie” Lucio Jr., a Texas State Senator representing the 27th District.