Bronx teen Richard Jimenez is a freshman at the College of Saint Rose, and he credits a unique opportunity and mentorship at Bronx Prep high school for helping him to succeed in a neighborhood where many do not.
As an 8th-grader, Jimenez overheard the school’s orchestra teacher, Mr. Alvarado, playing the violin, and it inspired him to take up the cello a week later. In the years since, Jimenez developed his talents with Alvarado’s guidance, becoming an example for future students who often feel their options for escaping their inner-city neighborhoods are limited, according to Democracy Prep Public Schools.
“If you can’t be extremely book smart or play sports, there’s not really much else you can do. I have a lot of friends who believe that,” Jimenez said.
“Music was my answer. Music was my way of getting out of here,” he said. “It kept me away from all of the bad things happening around me.”
Daily practice—in orchestra class, at home, and during school study time—quickly built Richard’s skills and confidence, and by his junior year he played his first solo in the Bronx Prep Spring Showcase, an experience that also helped him overcome his personal struggle with performing in public. “I remember going up to Mr. Alvarado saying I need tips on how to break the nervousness I had,” Jimenez said. “He said, ‘just play’ and walked away. That was probably the best advice I ever got.”
Jimenez credits Alvarado for opening up a path for his future he didn’t know existed. “He gave me the gift of music and the gift of a different form of expression that I didn’t know was real,” he said. “He guided me into becoming the person that I wanted to become. Everyday I treasure that.”
Alvarado contends his relationship with Jimenez made a positive impact on him, as well, and credited much of his student’s success to hard work, practice and personal dedication. “It’s unheard of for anyone to begin playing string instruments at the age of 14 and be at the level he’s at,” Alvarado said. “All of that has to do with his motivation and passion for music. Moments like that, I stop to think, ‘this validates my life’s work.’”
Jimenez also serves as an example of what other students can accomplish, and Alvarado said he’s not shy about sharing his story with other minority students looking to break into fields where they’re typically underrepresented. “He was consistent, devoted, passionate, and just wants to know more and grow,” he said. “I feel that’s something our younger scholars need to succeed: To see a success story from Bronx Prep; to see our own scholars being successful.”
Teachers like Mr. Alvarado play an indispensable role in directing the path of students’ lives—and in modeling the kind of people that they can become.
The moral example of teachers unquestionably complemented the formal instruction students received, but arguably, it was far more poignant to, and influential upon, the students themselves.
For Jimenez, Alvarado’s positive example not only offered a path to success out of his inner-city neighborhood, but also a template to help others in his community and beyond.
“The greatest I can become—that’s the level I want to reach. I believe it’s a mission to spread the beauty of music to others. I know what it did for me and what it can do for others,” he said. “The same thing that Mr. Alvarado did for me, I want to do the same and continue that path. Giving back to where you came from is very important to me.”
While Jimenez found a transformative experience in music, it’s only one of many ways educators can connect with students to build character and unlock their true potential.
The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a lesson that weaves history, film, and music to entice students toward a similar kind of passionate pursuit of excellence that fueled Jimenez’s success.