Vanguard Academy is now equipped to provide an innovative education in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — for the next school year.

The academy received its first Texas Education Agency grant, specifically the 2019-20 Summer Career & Technical Education grant for $50,000.

The TEA funds provide two components: a remote learning summer bridge program in STEM-Engineering, and Cybersecurity & Networking Systems for incoming eighth and ninth grade students; and the “Earn While You Learn” experience, a work-based paid internship program for incoming seniors.

Cesar Garcia, Vanguard CTE director, said the summer bridge program is an introduction to what the students can expect to learn in the fall.

“It’s a really good way of starting off and getting some introductory knowledge before they start the actual class in the fall semester,” Cesar Garcia said.

Vanguard incoming senior students in the STEM-IT Program of Study were hired to participate in the internship earning $9 per hour and gaining 80 hours of work experience. Their duty was assisting the academy’s IT department by configuring 1,600 Chromebooks, laptops and other electronic devices for the upcoming school year.

Asked the benefits of this grant, Vanguard Academy Superintendent Narciso Garcia replied, “It adds value to their future career pathway interest, because these students are very interested in Information Technology… It’s such a growing industry.”

Narciso Garcia also said some of the students’ parents have talked to him about the students wanting to add this work experience in their resume.

“It’ll help them for future jobs because they can use that as a reference, but then also for college applications,” he said.

Alondra Garza, 17, was one of the 13 students who participated in the internship. She said that the experience provided insight into what IT is and what the department does in the job.

“It was only like getting our feet wet but we did understand some of the things that they were doing and how all this stuff affects the students,” Garza said.

She said it helped to see that IT is important and believes many people are needed to work in the field.

Garza also said this internship wasn’t too hard for her, but wearing gloves and masks while working with computers made it difficult to handle the job.

Jasmine Tamintuan, 17, another student hired for the internship, said she appreciated the opportunity the school gave her to have this work experience.

Tamintuan said that she did not encounter any hardships in this internship other than transporting the chromebooks to the warehouse after being configured.

She explained that there were not enough people to help transport all the equipment, so she always volunteered to help them transport.

Both Garza and Tamintuan recognized that the administration and IT department work often goes unacknowledged from the students, but they got to see their effort in this internship.

“Usually when you’re a student at school, you have a lot of room to complain about basically everything,” Tamintuan said. “But when you experience what’s going on behind the scenes, it gives you a new perspective and appreciation for how much work the administration really picks on.”

According to Cesar Garcia, even though the academy made the students take precautionary measures, the internship program was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program started in June and was supposed to finish in July, but it ended a week before.

“We were equipping our staff and our district with technology, but also equipping our students to make sure that they are ready for the workforce and able to be marketable when they leave high school,” Cesar Garcia said.

Vanguard Academy has campuses in Pharr, Alamo and Edinburg.