McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — In an effort to elevate the U.S. Border Patrol’s image among youth in the Rio Grande Valley and possibly attract some of its best students to join the force, the agency gave out “Head of the Class” awards on Tuesday.
Seniors from 15 area high schools in South Texas received the awards during a ceremony at a local high school in McAllen. The students are now finalists for Youth of the Year scholarships the agency will give out in the spring.
The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector has awarded over $67,500 in scholarships since it began awarding Youth of the Year winners 10 years ago. The awards are given not only for academic excellence but also for volunteerism and for showing a strong commitment to the local community, U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Pedro Cantu told Border Report.
“We like to acknowledge our students who are high-achieving in the classroom and in the community,” Cantu said. “We like to show everybody that the Border Patrol is not just a law enforcement agency. We like to give back to our community.”
Students are nominated by their high school counselor and only one student per school from 69 high schools in the region can win the “Head of the Class” award each year. A group of business sponsors who donate to the scholarship fund will then select from this pool 10 to 15 youth to be named in May as Youth of the Year winners who will receive scholarships.
“It’s awesome when our students, as well as other students around the Valley, are able to receive these awards,” said McAllen Independent School District Board President Marco Suarez, who helped to present the awards at a local high school on Tuesday. “More importantly, when it comes from an organization such as the Border Patrol it’s even more exciting. Hopefully, it will be inspiration for them to get their degree and want to join the U.S. Border Patrol or any other government affiliation.”
State Rep. Oscar Longoria, a Democrat who represents Hidalgo County, was the keynote award speaker and he encouraged the students to return to South Texas after college to continue their service to these border communities. “You guys are our future and I commend you,” Longoria said.
Award winner Jonah Riojas, president of his senior class at McAllen High School, said he wants to return to serve as the city’s mayor or possibly a city commissioner after graduating college.
Recipient Alejandro Rodriguez, of Robert Vela High School in Edinburg, said he wants to be a U.S. Border Patrol agent after college.
Said award winner Priscilla Mendoza, of Valley View High School in Pharr: “I will come back for sure because this community means everything to me.”
The Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector also gives out Head of the Class Awards.