Harlingen High School’s Ag Science program now integrating life skills students

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Harlingen High School’s Nolan Garcia’s Duroc hog won breed champion earlier this month at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo. (Courtesy)

HARLINGEN — Meet Nolan Garcia.

He’s not a bystander. He’s not a casual observer, he is not standing on the sideline.

He does, however, attend Angela Powelson’s life skills class in the special education department at Harlingen High School. He participates in Andre Gonzalez’s agriculture science class, looks after his hogs at the ag barn, and talks excitedly when Powelson mentions Daisy, the Duroc hog which won breed champion earlier this month at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“Breed champion!” he shouts.

“Breed champion Duroc,” she says.

Nolan: “Duroc!”

At the livestock show earlier this month in Mercedes young Nolan, 17, was at once joyous, stunned, wide-eyed and proud. This medley of emotions powered him into a much-animated figure whose personality drew the admiration of many. He had just won breed champion for Daisy and his supporters gathered to share his victory. Powelson was there, as was his mother Kirsten and one of his ag teachers, Jason Suarez, and so many more.

Nolan’s success was all his own, but many had assisted his efforts and his learning, and it was the result of a transformation of perspective and the innovation and refurbishing of prior knowledge. In the field of education, professionals often speak of prior knowledge and the building upon that prior knowledge. In this new arena of integrating life skills students into agriculture science and the livestock show, the building on that prior knowledge means rearranging that prior knowledge into a greater awareness. Or perhaps rather than rearranging it could be said a reevaluating of the knowledge base and a new understanding of that knowledge.

This integration and the success of its integration resulted from the collaboration of many people. Powelson and HHS Agriculture Science Teacher Andres Gonzales worked together along with many others to make this new idea a reality.

The collaboration was made easier by the friendship Gonzales had enjoyed for years with Powelson.

Harlingen High School’s Nolan Garcia’s Duroc hog won breed champion earlier this month at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo. (Courtesy)

“We’ve been friends for many many years,” Gonzales said. “I said, ‘Hey, would you be interested in collaborating with a lot of the projects that I do in class.’”

Of course her answer was a resounding “Yes!” and the journey to a new and refreshing place began.

“We started about six years ago,” Gonzales said. “The way that we collaborate, I incorporated the life skills kids into my program. Whenever we do any kind of project, whether it’s a horticulture project or a greenhouse project or the animal life program, her kids come to my program.”

Once in play, the process of integration went more smoothly than what many believed. Again, a reorganizing of prior knowledge, or perhaps a new understanding of prior knowledge.

“He kind of took off with it,” Powelson said as Nolan moved around in a chair in her office, at ease and excited as always.

“He does have to be enrolled in an agriculture class,” Powelson said. “To be a part of FFA you have to be enrolled in an agriculture class. He doesn’t necessarily go to the class every day but he does go when they have hands-on activities. If there’s something going on in his ag class with a plant or an animal, he goes and he participates in that in the ag class.”

And this brings into view another fine aspect of integration: socialization. Life skills students often don’t have the same social opportunities as students in regular classes. Nolan’s participation in ag science with his Duroc hog has brought him into direct contact with a variety of other students and they have taken to him very well.

“He makes friends in there,” Powelson said. “He and his family would go to the ag farm and he met people there and that’s how he ended up with students who were able to help him.”

His parents, Noe and Kirsten Garcia, and his younger brother Kai assisted him in his venture. Everyone has been delighted by the result of these efforts.

“It’s a wonderful feeling, especially seeing him out there amongst his peers, not being judged for his disability,” Kirsten said. “It really boosted his self-esteem. He was quite excited that day. He knew he had done good and it was only his second year.”

Harlingen High School’s Nolan Garcia’s Duroc hog won breed champion earlier this month at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo. (Courtesy)

Kirsten also appreciated support everyone gave her son and the impact he has had on the lives of so many.

“I think it was a good experience for him, not only for him but for the other kids, too, the general ed kids,” she said.

Nolan’s brother Kai, an eighth grader, also worked closely with him, Garcia said.

“He helped with the project,” she said. “He doesn’t want to show but he’s one of the first ones out there to help feed, how to clean the pig and the pens.”

Nolan has been an inspiration to many. He is the first life skills students at HHS to show an animal, thus making him a pioneer and groundbreaker and an inspiration to those who will follow his lead — Powelson already has another student that will join the program next fall.

Thus his enthusiasm and his success and his courage now serve as a beacon not only to life skills students but to others who employ too easily the word “can’t,” that the glories of challenge and the conquering of that challenge can embolden anyone’s efforts to achieve.

Kirsten hopes Kai after working with Nolan will consider participating in livestock show. Perhaps Kai’s big brother Nolan and the success of his brother Nolan might inspire the younger Garcia to participate in livestock show.

Nolan after all is Kai’s big brother, and that’s what big brothers do.

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