NYC officials shorten teen's epic school commute

Santiago Munoz sits behind his new desk in

Santiago Munoz sits behind his new desk in his new apartment in Williamsburg. (Mar. 21, 2013) (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

Fourteen-year-old Santiago Munoz's sacrifice to take a 2 1/2 hour commute to school so he can study to be a doctor is easier now that city officials helped move his family closer to his school.

"It's not stressful in the morning anymore," Santiago said. "I don't have to worry much if I miss a bus, or a transfer, and it's easier for me to concentrate in class."

City housing authority officials moved his family of seven from Far Rockaway to Brooklyn after learning last month that the teen was making pre-dawn trips to get to Bronx Science High School.

Santiago's plight was first highlighted in a United Nations photo exhibit "Journeys to School," which talked about how his school commute was made more arduous when superstorm Sandy destroyed the Rockaway subway line.

After moving the family to the Williamsburg area -- which cut down Santiago's commute to two hours -- the housing authority family services unit gave the family new bedroom and living room sets, towels, toothbrushes and even silverware.

And Veolia, a Long Island bus company, which sponsored the UN photo exhibit gave Santiago a new desk and lamp.

Also helping Santiago is a Bronx Science High School alum who heard about his ambition to become a doctor and offered to pay for SAT exam tutoring that will help Santiago prepare for the high scores he needs to enter Columbia University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, his top choices.

"I'm extremely grateful," Santiago said last week. "This has helped my family and we appreciate that my efforts to get an education is recognized."

His father, Julio Munoz, 49, a Manhattan parking garage attendant, who moved his family here from Colombia, said his son "is breathing a lot easier. There was a lot of pressure on him, but he was always happy to go to school."

Santiago lives with his 17-year-old sister who attends Brooklyn Technical High School, a 9-year old brother in the third grade, his aunt and her son, and their grandmother.

Santiago's mother died when he was young. "That was a big loss for us," Julio Munoz said. "My sister and mother have helped me raise my children."

As for Santiago, there are many people pulling for him.

"Santiago's story is compelling," said Michael Setzer, vice president of Veolia. "He is a persistent young man who will make his way into the world."

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