By CHRISTINA R. GARZA
Rita “Nina” Garcia is passionate about education. The Port Isabel Junior High School counselor will celebrate her 40th year working for the Point Isabel Independent School District. Garcia and her husband Rudy, currently director of Project Puente, an after-school program, were born and raised in Port Isabel. The two were neighbors growing up and became childhood sweethearts, eventually marrying.
Garcia began working as a paraprofessional in 1973 through a co-op program under then superintendent Ruben Torres. Garcia worked full time at Garriga Elementary and took summer courses to earn her bachelor’s degree in Education. The co-op program paid for her education and gave her invaluable on-the-job training.
Garcia taught students at Garriga and Derry for 15 years. Her husband Rudy had returned to UTB to enroll as a graduate student and earn his masters degree in counseling. Rudy encouraged his wife to follow suit. The task seemed daunting to the then full time working mother of four daughters. However with the overwhelming support of her husband, Rita was on her way to pursuing her Master’s degree in counseling. After earning her degree, Rita went on to work as a counselor at Derry Elementary for 10 years.
After 30 years with the school district, Rita retired. Rita’s retirement was short-lived. After a summer of retirement, Rita returned to work with the district and joined the staff at Port Isabel High School as a GEAR UP Facilitator. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. GEAR UP is a six-year federal initiative designed to increase early college awareness and readiness in traditionally underrepresented groups.
Garcia worked with 11th graders, following them and assisting them through graduation. After working with elementary school students throughout her career, Garcia was initially intimidated by the older students, some of whom were taller than her. Garcia quickly found her footing by following the golden rule. “If you respect the kids, they will respect you, it is so important in any relationship.”
This year was Garcia’s first at Port Isabel Junior High School. As a counselor, Garcia addresses academics and even emotional well-being with students. When students struggle academically Garcia encourages them to practice TARPON, an acronym Garcia coined herself. TARPON stands for: Tutoring; Ask Questions; Review; Practice; Observe; and Never give up. That enthusiasm and ability to adapt has helped Garcia in the field of education.
A career that spans four decades is bound to face changes, and when asked what the biggest difference between working with students in 1973 versus 2013, Garcia responded, “There is definitely more awareness about children’s abilities and disabilities. People are more proactive and there are more advocacies for our children.”
Garcia credits her mother, Eulogia Villarreal Alaniz, as her inspiration to succeed. Garcia lost her mother at the age of 10. Garcia also gives thanks to her strong Catholic faith and her soul mate, her husband Rudy for supporting her.
Garcia is an active member of her community and serves as Regent of Our Lady Start of the Sea Court 2569. The Catholic group held a style show and silent auction to raise money to award five graduating seniors of Port Isabel High School with $500 scholarships each.
Garcia has served on the Laguna Vista Water District as council member since 2000. Garcia believes in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy that one must be the change they wish to see in the world.
“Everybody has a responsibility to be a public servant,” Garcia said.