The fourth- and fifth-grade students were both puzzled and intrigued by the panel before them: a group of six men of color, all doctors, but only one was a medical doctor. During the next hour, the students discovered that with patience, persistence and hard work, almost anyone can become a doctor in almost anything. And that was the whole point of the panel of Ph.D.s who visited Cimarron Elementary on Aug. 28.
“The purpose of today was to bring in the distinguished doctors of color, and to have our children see the narrative that they present, who they are, and help to shape the scholarly identities that we want to inspire in our children,” said Cimarron Principal LaToyua Tolbert.
Cimarron is a diverse school in a diverse community. The student body is 63% students of color. The school has a vibrant and involved parent community and a supportive neighborhood. Principal Tolbert says her students are fortunate to have positive role models from both inside and outside their school community. Throughout the year, students have the opportunity to learn about and learn from people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. On this day, they got to meet experts in fields including applied mathematics, education, philosophy, psychology, ophthalmology and international studies. The panelists were:
Dr. Antwan Jefferson
Professor, University of Colorado Denver
Ph.D. - Educational Leadership/Philosophy
Dr. Richard Charles
Director of STEM, Cherry Creek Schools
Ph.D. - Applied Mathematics
Dr. Mark Heredia
Administrative Assistant, Horizon Community Middle School
Ph.D. - International Studies
Dr. Ron Lee
Director of Mental Health, Cherry Creek Schools
Ph.D. - Psychology
Dr. John Pope
Dr. Adeyemi Stembridge
Ph.D. - Education/Philosophy
The youngsters learned that to earn the title of doctor, you have to earn a doctorate degree, something that can take a lot of time and effort, according to the panelists.
“You have to have persistence, grit, a willingness to be patient and work for a long-term goal,” said Dr. Adeyemi Stembridge.
When a student asked Stembridge if he ever thought of quitting while working on his doctorate, he said “Yes,” but he added that he had people around him who believed in him and wouldn’t let him quit.
The panelists all encouraged the students to find things that really interest them.
“What do you love to do more than anything else?” asked Dr. Richard Charles, Director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for Cherry Creek Schools. He told the students that as a child, he loved space, and that led him into the field of applied mathematics.
Dr. Mark Heredia, an administrator at Horizon Community Middle School, said he was always interested in flying and earned his private pilot’s license not long after getting his driver’s license. That led him to the Air Force, where he worked, not as a pilot, but as a cyberspace operations officer while earning a doctorate in International Studies.
“Be a lifelong learner,” advised Dr. Ron Lee, who is the Director of Mental Health for Cherry Creek Schools. He also encouraged students to give back to their communities. “Do what you love and do for others.”
After the hour-long panel discussion, the doctors joined students and teachers in their classrooms as they worked on the day’s math lessons. Dr. Heredia was impressed by what he witnessed.
“As I’m going around the classrooms, wow, I’m getting inspired,” Heredia said. “Just to see what’s going on, to see the teachers interacting with the kids, to see the kids learning like this.”
Dr. John Pope, a retired ophthalmologist, said the visit gave him hope for the future.
“These students are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, the doctors of tomorrow. It all starts here,” Pope said.