UTRGV McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy nearing completion

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The UTRGV McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy is seen on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)

McALLEN — The UTRGV McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy is approaching completion and although it’s nearly identical to the other university collegiate high schools, the district is taking a different approach than its counterparts on how it will operate.

Consisting of the same open floor plan with two floors of classrooms, labs and an auditorium like the UTRGV Harlingen Collegiate High School and the UTRGV Edinburg CISD Collegiate High School, McAllen’s is not a standalone high school but an early college academy.

According to Ramon Dones, project manager for Noble Construction, the facility cost about $23.4 million with UTRGV and McAllen ISD splitting the bill, similar to Edinburg CISD, through a memorandum of understanding signed in 2022.

Dones and UTRGV McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy Director Elizabeth Gonzalez, who provided The Monitor with a tour, went through the facility and explained how the school will be operating which is different from the standalone high schools in Edinburg and Harligen.

The facility is located at 801 Lakeview Drive in McAllen across from another UTRGV project, the UT Health RGV Cancer and Surgery Center.

The collegiate academy will give McAllen ISD students a head start in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

The academy focuses on education, engineering, computer science, and health professions. More than half of the applicants are leaning toward health professions.

Gonzalez said students attending the collegiate academy will still be part of the district’s comprehensive high schools.

The students, based on their schedule and extra-curricular activities, either take classes in the morning or afternoon and come to campus on days based on their classes at the academy.

The UTRGV McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy is seen on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)

She said it has been a task implementing this framework since it takes collaboration between the district’s comprehensive high schools, compared to the Edinburg and Harlingen’s standalone high schools.

“The standalone (high schools) … you kind of just make your own schedule and you run it,” Gonzalez said. “Whereas here, we have to keep collaborating with the comprehensive high schools. But we wanted to make sure we kept it that way and I think that’s a big reason why students are attracted to the program.”

The director described it as having the best of both worlds for students.

“They’re over there half the time and they’re over there,” she said. “So it’s a different setting for their college level courses but then they’re still with their high school peers, they still participate in their extracurricular activities.”

The facility has 65,000 square feet with a total of 26 classrooms, including four labs for chemistry, biology, physics and engineering.

The building also includes offices, conference rooms and an auditorium.

Dones said the collegiate academy is set to be completed at the end of May with small things needed to be done and final inspections.

“If we get our final inspections next week, we’ve got 30 days to complete items so we’re anticipating it by the end of May we’ll be complete,” he said.

The UTRGV McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy is seen on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)

The facility has a capacity of around 500 students and currently has about 350 students from freshman to juniors attending the campus this fall. The collegiate academy will not have seniors the first semester.

Gonzalez said the first day of school would be Aug. 19.

Asked how it feels to be the director of such a new and complex school, Gonzalez replied, “It’s very exciting for me. I’ve been in education for 23 years … you could go your whole career, never experiencing opening up a building and having a voice into what goes into the building. So that to me is a very unique experience. So I feel very blessed to be a part of it. There’s obviously a lot of groundwork that has to be done … But it continues to be exciting to be going through a lot of those little obstacles that come up.”

Confident in dealing with any adjustments that need to be made next school year, she said as a parent, she loves the idea that a student can still have a traditional school experience but also can get college dual credit with like minded peers.

Gonzalez added that the application has reopened and the academy is looking to add about 30 additional students for this coming fall. For students or parents looking for more information, can visit https://www.mcallenisd.org/page/umca or contact Gonzalez at [email protected].