Rio Hondo ISD’s “Magnificent Seven” make district history

RIO HONDO, TX - Seven Rio Hondo ISD seniors achieved an impressive milestone weeks before their high school graduation by walking across the stage at Texas Southmost College on May 13 to receive an associate degree in general studies. 

 Known as the “Magnificent Seven” among district leaders, Sara Benavides, Milla Bocanegra, Brandon Gonzales, Emma Pezeshki, Serena Quinones, Eleazar Vasquez and Karina Zuniga, are the first cohort of students from Rio Hondo High School to earn Associate of Arts degree while in high school.

 “This is undoubtedly a magnificent achievement for these students and our community,” said Rio Hondo ISD Superintendent Raul J. Treviño. “For years to come, our district will recognize how this historic moment has forever changed the accessibility for students to achieve a post-secondary degree.”

 Rio Hondo ISD partners with both higher education institutions and industry leaders to prepare students with the academic, technical and professional skills required to support competitive careers and academic advancement after high school.

 “We are very pleased to welcome the first seven Rio Hondo High School Dual Enrollment students as Texas Southmost College Alumni, Class of 2023,” said TSC President, Dr. Jesús Roberto Rodríguez. “These students completed all the requirements to earn an associate degree, at no cost to their families, before they even graduated from high school.

 “This wise investment in their future has set them on a pathway to economic prosperity, whether they choose to leverage their college degree to enter the workforce, directly, or transfer to a university in pursuit of a bachelor's degree. The Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees and I look forward to continuing our strong partnership with Rio Hondo ISD and growing the number of Bobcats graduating from TSC.”

 With this head start, Rio Hondo HS 2023 Valedictorian Karina Zuniga will attend the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a bachelor's in psychology. Karina said she has plans to obtain a master's degree to eventually open a mental health facility to support youth in her community.

 Her parents, David and Imelda Zuniga, said they are thankful for the many educational opportunities Rio Hondo has for its students, and how the dual enrollment has provided some financial relief in regard to their daughter attending college and pursuing an advanced degree.

 “It’s each student’s option to decide their path,” Imelda Zuniga said. “I thank God for Karina taking advantage of this opportunity.”

 Her dad David agreed, “As a parent you motivate and encourage them. One of Karina's sayings to me has always been, ‘I got this’ and she got it alright.”

 Karina has been working toward earning an associate degree since the second semester of her freshman year. She said she acknowledged some difficulty at first, but her school and family provided the support she needed navigating communication with her professors and expectations of college coursework. She encourages other high school students to take advantage of these programs. 

 “If the opportunity is there, take it,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or help, because in the end, that’s what will help you achieve your goals.”

 The entire community rallied to recognize the historic event and achievements of the Rio Hondo Magnificent Seven.

 Rio Hondo Mayor Gustavo "Gus" Olivares issued a proclamation and publicly recognized the group at a recent city commission meeting.

 “On behalf of the residents of Rio Hondo, we offer heartfelt congratulations and best wishes on this important milestone in your lives,” Mayor Olivares said. “We couldn't be prouder of you.”

 District leaders will build upon this momentous achievement and continue to provide post-secondary learning opportunities and accreditations to students. Rio Hondo HS was recently designated a Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) Early College High School, which will ensure even more students receive college credentials or up to an associate degree prior to their high school graduation in years to come. The first official Rio Hondo P-TECH cohort will graduate in May 2025. 

About Rio Hondo ISD

Rio Hondo ISD is a public school district located in Cameron County. The district is home to three campuses serving approximately 1,600 students.  Rio Hondo ISD is recognized for its state-of-the-art facilities, award winning fine arts and co/extra-curricular programming, and for offering a diversity of college and career pathways in a small-town family-friendly atmosphere.  Rio Hondo ISD also serves the communities residing in the Arroyo Colorado Estates, Lozano, Villa Del Sol, and is currently accepting applications as an open enrollment school system.   


(Left to Right) Brandon Gonzales, Sara Benavides, Karina Zuniga, Milla Bocanegra, Eleazar Vasquez, Serena Quinones and Emma Pezeshki made Rio Hondo ISD history by earning an associate degree from Texas Southmost College before their high school graduation.