Troy Hill looks on as his daughter, Troi, describes her new school at the induction ceremony of the first class of students at the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Sciences Charter School.

Izquierdo School’s goal is more Latino and black physicians

Ten-year-old Troi Hill is much like other kids her age. She displays insatiable curiosity and a shy smile. She likes math and science and animals. Eventually, she wants to be a veterinarian.

Dressed in her black scrubs, Troi looks every bit the part of a future medical professional. She and her parents hope her new school, the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School in Morrisania, will help her dreams come true.

Troi is one of roughly 100 students at the school, the first of its kind in the state.

Opened in September, the school currently serves only sixth graders, but will grow by a grade a year until it reaches grades 6 through 12.

Unlike any other school in New York, the charter school will equip students with both academic and vocational training so that upon graduation, all students will be certified Emergency Medical Technicians.

That will equip the graduates, who come from an area where 38 percent of residents live below the poverty line, according to the Census, to earn an income immediately after high school.

“I am an example of the American Dream,” Dr. Richard Izquiero said  to students and their families during the induction ceremony of the first class on Oct. 11. “I’d like to see these kids and students become part of that dream.”

Izquierdo is the founder of Urban Health Plan, a low cost community health center created in 1967 in Hunts Point that has grown to include three more clinics and placed doctors and nurses in schools. One of his goals is to increase the number of Latino and African American doctors.

“A home-grown crop of health-care providers” is needed to care for communities like those of the South Bronx, he explained in an interview when he first proposed the school.

Teresa Burgos said she enrolled her daughter Alicia because of the opportunities it will present her in the future.

“I wanted her to have a better education,” Burgos said. “I want to bring my other daughter here too.”

“I’m so ready and happy and excited for this to begin,” Alicia said.

Troi and her other classmates share a similar goal: to receive quality education for a better life. At her previous school, Troi says,  she often was scared because fights broke out among her classmates.

“There’s no violence here and I get more attention,” she said.

Attention is what lured Troi’s family to the school.

“As a Bronxite myself, I am impressed with the dedication of this school,” said Joanne Thompson, Troi’s grandmother. “There is such a shortage of people of color doing something positive here, and the community couldn’t be more thankful.”

“I can already see her in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck,” said Danita Thompson, Troi’s mother.

Troi’s parents, uncle and grandmother proudly looked on as she walked across the stage and met with Izquierdo at the induction ceremony.

The melody of giggles and the shuffle of sneakers bounced off the walls of the school auditorium.

Izquierdo presented a watch to every student, symbolizing the time they would spend at the school. School officials said the watch is a constant reminder of the hard work these students would invest in their education.

“These students will be able to pay back this opportunity by serving time in their community,” Izquierdo said.

The school is partnering with Urban Health Plan to provide career building skills and seminars.

Students are already thinking about their future careers. An unscripted video shown at the induction ceremony portrayed a handful of students reading aloud their goals and aspirations.

“Mom, this message goes to you,” one girl said. “You know I’ve wanted to become a doctor for a long time. And this is the proudest moment of my life.”

Across the auditorium, the sights and sounds of celebration were clear. Mothers juggled cameras and babies with tissues to wipe their tears as they hugged their newly inducted students. Fathers told their sons and daughters to smile for the camera and as they snapped pictures.

The words “proud,” “happy” and “excited” bounced from family-to-family.

Students in their starched black scrubs fiddled with their watches as their parents looked on with delight.

The true test of the Izquierdo Health and Sciences School will be seen in seven years as these students walk across the same stage where they began their journey this October.

Though Izquierdo remains hopeful of the future, there are still challenges facing the school.

The school has already set new goals:

  • raising funds to create a lunch program that will serve healthier foods.
  • adding lab technician and nursing programs to the curriculum
  • providing each teacher the opportunity to become EMT certified for free

But all of these goals require money, money that Izquierdo believes will come once people see the effectiveness of the school.

Parents share Izquierdo’s hope for a better future for their children.

“I’m glad she was offered this opportunity,” Troi’s mother said. “And what a journey and what a ride it will be.”

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of the Mott Haven Herald.

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