Engineering students are at work inside a new innovation lab building on the Mercedes campus of the South Texas Independent School District campus.
They peer over laptops and move from table to table, conferring over projects and looking over numerical formulas that offer solutions.
“These kids know they’re not on an island,” said Gabe Valdez, an instructor at the school. “They collaborate. They look for opportunities to teach each other.”
The Mercedes campus with its Med High and Science Academy houses a sizable portion of the students attending the school district. but there are other campuses in the regional network of magnet schools.
A high school focusing on medical professions opened in Olmito in 2015. There is a Rising Scholars school in San Benito for middle school-aged students. A school in Edinburg features international studies and language programs.
STISD began in 1984 with the opening of the South Texas High School for Health Professions (Med High). The source of its beginnings came in 1964 as a rehabilitation school district before becoming the South Texas Independent School District in 1974. The change to vocational magnet schools would come in the 1980s.
The district serves students from Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties and is in its fifth decade of existence. It now includes four high schools, two middle schools and a large library on its Mercedes campus. STISD has been busy in recent years rebranding itself. It is putting the South Texas name in all of its campuses to add connection between the schools.
The school district is also making plans to move its administrative offices to a new location along Expressway 77/83 near the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets. The new district hub will have workshops and training sessions in addition to an increase in administrative space for the regional district. It is making these changes during an era when the opening of charter schools has changed the landscape of public education in the Rio Grande Valley. It underscores the continuing academic excellence offered by STISD.
“There’s a lot of choices for students today,” said Amanda Odom, the administrator for public relations and marketing for STISD. “It’s a good thing that parents and students have choices.”
There are plenty of choices within the schools of STISD. A walk around at the Mercedes campus features students studying and working in nursing and EMT labs. There is a huge floor space in the innovation lab facility where students work over large tables, assembling products using sophisticated equipment. In Edinburg, South Texas ISD World Scholars engage in international baccalaureate programs. It also has dual enrollment opportunities with South Texas College and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
“We’ve been able to see how the school has changed over the years, and how it’s grown,” said Valdez, the instructor, who is an alumnus of STISD, as is Odom. “What’s offered now is a lot more than what we had back then.”