BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Brownsville ISD held its first leadership and mental health event Tuesday for student-athletes.

Students had been participating in a video curriculum throughout the year, but this was the first chance these students had to get some in-person instruction.

“With mental health disorders on the rise, with the teacher shortages, it’s a recipe for disaster right now. And we’re just trying to create this curriculum to help with those challenging times right now,” said Josh Perez, co-founder of 360 Athletics.

The company offers virtual lessons on leadership, character building, and social-emotional learning. The curriculum consists of 36 weekly lessons broken into two, 18-week semesters. Perez started the company a year ago with his brother, Jonathan Medina. Both men are originally from Rio Hondo, and Perez said it was special whenever he got a chance to come back to the Rio Grande Valley.

“I get the luxury of being able to travel across the country to talk to different communities and schools. But it is really special to come back home and service these kids because of the connection I have with these students,” Perez said.

Ten students from each of the six high schools in Brownsville attended the training. The student-athletes participated in team-building exercises and heard from motivational speakers.

Brownsville ISD Athletics Director Gilbert Leal said team leaders from a variety of sports were chosen to take part.

“We have our top six boys and girls, team leaders from each of our schools. We wanted to be able to share some leadership strategies that we’ve gone through, that we may have used as adults, and share some of those with our athletes,” Leal said.

Leal said one of the core values of the athletics department was having a strong character education program. He said the district had such a program in place for the past five years. Leal said the fact that Perez and Medina had a personal connection to the area helped connect students to the curriculum.

“The authors of these are from the Rio Grande Valley, so the stories that they tell over these eighteen lessons can make that special connection with the kids that are from not only the Rio Grande Valley but from Brownsville ISD,” Leal said.

Perez talked about his troubles growing up with parents who were incarcerated and having very few options for his future. He said one of his coaches inspired him to reach for his goals and wanted to share that inspiration with other kids. Perez went on to become a two-time NCAA All-American at Abilene Christian University, a high school football coach and educator.

”Being an ex-educator and coach, I was only servicing the school that I was working at. This platform has enabled me to go across the country and help share my story and my vision and my dreams with other students who might have faced challenging times like I did,” Perez said.

Both Leal and Perez discussed how much of an impact the pandemic had on students. Leal said kids hadn’t been able to develop their interpersonal skills and may have felt disconnected from coaches and friends. Perez said he hoped the 360 Athletics courses would help re-ignite some of the passion and drive students experienced before COVID-19.