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Bronx junior is 1 of 5 nationwide to win Annenberg scholarship

Camila Diaz’s summer plans are crammed with the kinds of activities zealous parents schedule for high school juniors.

First there was College Summit, a college application program at Yale, then the LEAD business program at Stanford, and then she’s off to the Dominican Republic to spend time with her family and, of course, study for her SATs.

“That’s Camila,” said her principal at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, Edward Tom. “She’s a planner. She’s probably been thinking about college since she was 5.”

Diaz, 17, is one of five high school juniors nationwide who will receive a full college scholarship from the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship Fund. She is the only New Yorker among them. All New Visions-affiliated schools were encouraged to nominate two students for the award, which goes to academically successful high school juniors who have faced serious challenges.

Diaz plans to apply early action to either Stanford or Yale — colleges, she said, that have strong economics departments and require all students to take certain classes. “I wanted some guidelines in what I had to take,” she said, adding that she’d like to work in finance.

An only child who lives with her mother in the North Bronx, Diaz came to the school after a year and a half of being home-schooled while she endured repeated leg surgeries.

“Having lived a life where she’s undergone surgery a number of times and to still be able to excel in other areas of her life is something to be admired,” Tom said. “She serves as a role model for other kids who now understand that they have no excuse.”

Diaz said she hadn’t fretted over paying for college, but was grateful not to have to go into debt to meet other expenses. “We’re considered the poorest of the poor, not in a bad sense, but we get financial aid really easily,” she said. “But things like books and room and board, I’d have to get loans for.” The Annenberg scholarship will pay for all of Diaz’s college costs, including a laptop and a small stipend.

According to Tom, 85 percent of students at the Bronx high school qualify for free or reduced lunch. This is the second year in a row that a student at the school has been selected for the scholarship. In June, 85 percent of the school’s senior class graduated on time, and 95 percent received Regents diplomas, according to Tom. The school is the subject of a documentary, “Whatever it Takes,” that was screened recently.

Tom opened the Bronx school in 2005, modeling it on the Manhattan Center for Math and Science, where he had worked as a math teacher. Unlike its Manhattan counterpart, the Bronx high school does not select its students based on their test scores, only giving preference to Bronx students who show up at the school’s open house.

Last year the school had 2,000 applications for its freshman class of 108 seats.

“It’s a really small school, I know all my peers, and I know the staff really well,” Diaz said. “It’s been more like a family environment.”

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