Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
At 8:06 a.m. a school bus pulled into the front circle of what was once a Brooks Air Force Base facility. Dozens of freshmen spilled from the bus doors, wearing blazers and heels, ties and dress shirts, and nervous smiles for a first day of ninth grade at the new CAST Med High School.
New ninth-graders Destiny Valadez, Bobbie Campos, and Savannah Zuniga walked through the front door, clutching each others’ arms.
Monday was not only the first day for the freshmen, it also marked the opening of CAST Med, the newest campus in the Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) network of schools. After several years of planning and months of renovations at Brooks, administrators and teachers moved into the campus Thursday, working through the weekend to get the school ready.
The in-district charter school is aimed at students who want to pursue medical careers. After their freshmen year, students can choose to focus their studies on one of three areas: biomedical research, medical professional, or public health professional.
“CAST Med opening today really does show the power of us and the power of passion to create something for the community,” Principal Eddie Rodriguez said. “We never want this to be exclusive to just the top kids, this is open to all to discover more about their future careers.”
Most of the 134 ninth-grade students attending CAST Med come from within San Antonio Independent School District but the school is open to students from any area within Bexar County. Some students come from as far north as Stone Oak, and all but 33 of the class are girls, Rodriguez said.
The school can accommodate as many as 150 students in its inaugural class of ninth graders, and administrators are still recruiting to fill the class. The high school will grow over the next four years to accommodate grades nine through 12.
This is the third school Rodriguez has opened in San Antonio. Along the way, he has learned that it is important to engage families in the process and create a culture that students want to be part of. A small class size makes a big difference, he added.
Every Monday will be what Rodriguez calls a “dress for success” day on which students will wear interview attire and learn how to coordinate outfits for professional occasions.
Rodriguez wants students to graduate with a strong grasp of reading and writing in both English and Spanish so they will be able to work with patients from varied backgrounds. The school has partnered with universities in Mexico, and Rodriguez hopes to offer summer opportunities for students to travel abroad.
Other partners include UT Health San Antonio, the University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio College, the Bexar County Medical Society, the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, and Mission Trail Baptist Hospital.
UT Health, the school’s “anchor partner,” will help CAST Med decide how to best prepare students for medical professions. San Antonio College will offer students access to medical labs, equipment, and college coursework.
CAST Med is the third CAST school in San Antonio ISD, joining CAST Tech, which opened in 2017, and Advanced Learning Academy, which opened in 2016 and recently joined the CAST Network.
Student Gavin Ross, 14, had been interested in attending the Health Careers High School in Northside ISD, but ended up selecting CAST Med. He became interested in becoming a plastic surgeon and dermatologist after watching YouTube videos from “Dr. Pimple Popper” and TV shows like Botched.
Like Ross, 13-year-old Bobbie Campos, became intrigued by the medical profession by watching TV. After viewing the long-running show Grey’s Anatomy, Campos decided she wanted to become a pediatric surgeon.
Dylan Ricondo, 14, gained inspiration from his own family. Ricondo’s dad works in the medical profession. While not sure what to expect from his first day, Ricondo was excited to get to his algebra and biology classes.
Less than an hour after the first bus arrived, biology teacher Giovanni Jose Neri opened his class with introductions. He told his group of 14 students about his background and interest in the medical profession.
Neri previously taught in Edgewood ISD and in Cy-Fair ISD in Houston before moving back to San Antonio for a new job with CAST Med. Before he became a teacher, Neri described his interest in becoming a doctor or medical researcher.
After his mother was diagnosed with cancer and died, Neri said he wanted to become “like a detective” and learn about what caused her illness. He became fascinated with medicine, wanting to learn about everything from how hair grows to how cancer cells spread.
“Throughout the year I’ll fill in more of the cracks and crevices of how I got here,” Neri said. “But I want you to know that I really relate to a lot of y’all and want you to reach high.”