<![CDATA[NBC 6 South Florida - ]]>Copyright 2018https://www.nbcmiami.com/feature/education-on-6http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/NBC+6+LOGO+GOOGLE.pngNBC 6 South Floridahttps://www.nbcmiami.comen-usSat, 22 Sep 2018 22:49:50 -0400Sat, 22 Sep 2018 22:49:50 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations<![CDATA[Miami-Dade Public Schools Students Thrive in AP Classes]]>Wed, 19 Sep 2018 19:20:02 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/AP+classes+Education+on+6+091918.PNG

Advanced placement courses aren’t just for students bound for the Ivy League. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has been pushing that message for years, recruiting ninth graders who do well on the PSAT exams and who show aptitude in class to enroll in college-level AP classes. The strategy appears to be paying off.

The school district released numbers showing that in the past ten years, the number of students taking at least one AP course has increased from 17,000 to more than 30,000. The percentage of students passing the AP exams (by scoring a 3, 4, or 5) has jumped from 40 percent to 55 percent in that time period. The state’s overall AP exam pass rate is 56 percent.

To look at one school as an example, in the past four years, Miami Senior High School has doubled the number of students taking AP courses and increased the percentage of kids passing the AP exams to 79 percent. This is happening despite the fact that many of the school’s students are still learning English.

“Which involves a lot of teacher support, a lot of tutoring that’s available to the students in-house where they’re able to come after school or even on Saturdays to get these students ready for the rigor of an AP class,” said principal Benny Valdes.

Miami High offers 21 AP classes, with more than 900 students taking at least one.

District-wide, the passing rate for Hispanic students has increased 18 percent in the past ten years, for African-Americans it’s up by 16 percent, and for whites, it’s up by 8 percent. District officials say this is evidence that the achievement gap is narrowing.

“It’s amazing, because we see the growth, we have students who are very, very scared, and we tell them they could do it, and at first they go no, it’s impossible, I’m really scared, my GPA, but we tell ‘em it’s not so much the GPA it’s what you’re gonna get out of it, the experience,” said Dr. Erick Hueck, who teaches AP Chemistry at Miami High.

“They teach work ethic, they teach you how to ask for help when you need it, they teach you camaraderie as well,” said senior Amanda Echevarria, explaining what she gets out of AP courses.

Amanda will graduate with an AP Capstone diploma after taking eight AP classes.

“Colleges would see that as a person who wants to try, who wants to push themselves to their limit and AP classes are the premier example of doing that,” said senior David Andrade, who will graduate with 11 AP courses under his belt with his sights set on the Ivy League.

Of course, one of the attractions of Advanced Placement courses is saving money. The credits are accepted by many colleges, so students don’t have to take those classes again. But these courses get kids ready for college-level work, which might be even more valuable in the long run.

“If a kid takes at least one AP class, he or she has a better chance to graduate college in four years, because of the rigor they will see, they learn study habits, and they’re going to be so much more successful when they go to college,” Hueck said.

Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Coral Shores High School]]>Mon, 17 Sep 2018 19:14:38 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/212*120/coral+shores+high+school.PNG

Rewind one year, and the Florida Keys were trying to dig out from the rubble left in Hurricane Irma's wake. Coral Shores High School in Tavernier was being used by FEMA as a disaster relief staging area. School was out and there was no telling when classes would resume.

To the students and faculty at Coral Shores, all that is way back in the rear-view mirror. They've got their groove back, and that process started as soon as schools reopened after Irma.

"Credit to these kids, as soon as we opened back up they went back to work and there was a sense of urgency, we lost instructional time by about 15 days, and the staff at Coral Shores is absolutely amazing, they did a great job and we're an 'A' school again this year," said principal Blake Fry.

Coral Shores is a full-service, traditional high school with less than 800 students but 18 AP classes. It also has some courses that are hard to find anywhere else.

"Commercial fishing," said Fry as an example, "which is a huge industry here, students after three or four years can earn their captain's license."

How about marine mechanics? Yamaha came up with the curriculum, and Coral Shores is one of just four schools in the nation offering the course.

"Most of the kids down here get a boat before they get a car, so this is a great fit, they can work on their own boats," said teacher Chris Catlett, or, he says, work in the industry like most of his students do.

The school also has an innovative, comprehensive marine sciences course. Students manage their own saltwater aquariums and they learn all about the imperiled coral reef habitat just offshore from their campus by going on dive trips with researchers.

"They need to understand the environment they live in so that they hopefully feel empowered to protect it," said marine sciences teacher Beth Rosenow. "We get out of the classroom as much as possible because that's when learning really takes place."

In the meantime, the Hurricanes are busy doing what high school kids are doing everywhere else, which is preparing for careers or college. Ninety-three percent of students at the school go on to four-year universities.

"We've got kids throughout the country, at Florida, Michigan, Stanford, MIT, Yale, Harvard, so they can name their pick when they leave here," Fry said. "You couldn't ask for a better place to raise your kids and send them to school, we're kind of a well-kept secret."

Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Miami PE Teacher Still Going Strong at 80]]>Wed, 12 Sep 2018 18:53:34 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/091218+Lois+Kirn.jpg

There’s no way. No way this woman who’s leading the class in jumping jacks, squats, and planking could be 80 years old, right? It’s just not feasible.

That’s the first reaction of everyone who doesn’t know Dr. Lois Kirn, but she is indeed 80 years old and she is still teaching physical education, with 32 years on the job at Miami's New World School of the Arts and still going strong.

"Since I joined her class I’ve lost five pounds," sophomore Gabriel Brito said.

When Kirn started her teaching career 56 years ago, color television was a rarity and home computers were still decades away. She says this generation of kids has too many distractions and reasons to be sedentary.

"They eat too much, they don’t exercise enough, it’s all lifestyle," Kirn said. "The first day, they couldn’t do a jumping jack, they could not coordinate it, the plank, 10 seconds was it, and now we’re up to a minute, so I just love it and I see the improvement."

Fitness is her passion, and she’s not ready to hang up her yoga pants, which is just fine with Kirn’s boss, Jason Allen, the principal of the downtown Miami arts conservatory.

"There’s a level of credibility there, she lives it, she breathes it, it’s who she is, she’s as real and as authentic as you can get," Allen said.

If you scoff at her class, thinking how tough could it possibly be if an octogenarian can do it every day, you do so at your own peril.

"Try it, try it and see how you do, and then talk to me about it,” Kirn said with a sneer.

To state the obvious, Kirn is not like most senior citizens. She’s more at home in the weight room than the condo clubhouse room, and whatever you do, if you meet her, don’t mention the "R" word, retirement.

"You sound like my daughter!" Kirn laughed when I asked her when she might stop teaching. "The day it’s not fun anymore or the day I can’t, I do five miles every day."

She’s a force of nature. Kirn energizes the kids, and they fuel her desire to keep going. And going. And going.

Photo Credit: Ari Odzer/NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[FBI Partners With Weston School For Cybersecurity Program]]>Wed, 05 Sep 2018 19:27:43 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/cyber-security.PNG

Is there a topic hotter than cybersecurity right now? From election hacking to identity theft to corporate espionage, one of the FBI's primary missions is preventing and identifying cyber crimes, and catching cyber criminals.

"We are concerned with foreign threats, we are concerned about internal threats as well, we just don't know where the threat is coming from, and that's the beauty and the scary part of the internet, you don't know who's behind the keyboard," said FBI Special Agent Alexis Carpinteri.

Now the Bureau is extending its expertise to high schools. So far, 29 students have signed up for the new FBI Cyber STEM Program at Weston's Cypress Bay High School. It's one of only two such programs in the entire nation, the other is in Pittsburgh, and it's all about making students think

"That brings me to our question of the day, which is, are we too reliant on technology?" said teacher Lisa Herron to her class.

You could almost feel the brainwaves colliding after Herron posed that question to her informational technology class. Her students are techies, they signed up for the FBI Cyber STEM course, and they're learning how to be analytical in their thinking.

"And also they'll be doing some activities that are sponsored by the FBI so they'll be able to do some unique activities you don't get in just a traditional computer classroom," Herron said.

Traditional classes don't have FBI agents involved in formulating the curriculum, as they did in this program. The students must take five classes in three years, including AP Computer Science, ACE Informational Technology, and Comprehensive Law. They also participate in mandatory FBI field exercise activities.

"So we want them to learn these critical skills, and then show them some practical applications, how does it work in the real world? How does this unique skill, this highly sought-after, critical need, how is it going to translate into actually making a difference in protecting the nation?" explained Special Agent Carpinteri.

So what does the FBI gain from this partnership? Every student in the program is a potential recruit who can bring cyber skills to the Bureau.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing if I have a chance in this field," said sophomore Vanessa Bohorquez.

"Potentially, in the future, I think being FBI would be cool and it's something I would want to do," freshman Jeremy Antecol said.

The world saw the unprecedented activism of teenagers after the Parkland tragedy. The FBI sees that as a huge opportunity.

"We've seen in recent events that this generation wants to be involved, they are invested in their community and they want to make a difference, it's exactly the type of person we are looking for," Carpinteri said.

And exactly the type of career the kids might be looking for as well.

<![CDATA[Armed Guardian Is First Line of Defense for Broward School]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 19:10:39 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/armed-guardians-broward-083118.PNG

They wear bright yellow shirts that have "Safe School Officer" emblazoned in big letters on the back. They carry a semi-automatic handgun in a holster. They patrol schools, inside and out. Sounds like they're school resource officers, but we're describing Broward County Schools' new armed guardians. They have one job.

"I am here to prevent any harm from happening to students, faculty, visitors," said Daniel Coley, an armed guardian at an elementary school which we are not naming by request of the school district.

Broward Schools is hiring former law enforcement or ex-military personnel to patrol schools that don't have an SRO to comply with a new state law. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Act mandates every school have either an SRO or an armed guardian on campus. Middle and high schools already had SRO's, but 55 elementary schools had only unarmed campus security monitors when the last school year ended.

"I think a lot of people would shy away from this challenge," Coley said.

Coley was inspired by the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School, and with his Coast Guard background, this job is a bridge to a law enforcement career.

"It's a great stepping stone, especially getting the training BSO provides, the very thorough training they provide," said Coley.

The Broward Sheriff's Office is training the armed guardian applicants in firearms use, tactics, and other basic subject areas. So far, a dozen guardians are on the job, with more on the way. Police officers from various agencies are patrolling schools, being paid overtime, until enough guardians can take their places.

"From day one, Mr. Coley has displayed the highest level of professionalism," said principal Rhonda Parris. "He has been instrumental in securing our campus and also in helping us identify maybe some soft spots."

"A lot of times I'll be out here, mainly when first graders finish with lunch because they'll walk this way and you'll see some adults or high schoolers that'll hop the fence over there and try to walk across so I try to stop them before I see it," Coley explained, as he walked along the back fence of the school, showing one of the vulnerabilities he's discovered.

So what's the attraction of the job? Definitely not the pay, the guardians are only making about $30,000 in salary, so there has to be another reason to want to patrol a school to protect students and teachers.

"It was something that I was more than willing to do in light of what happened, I mean children should never have to worry about going to school and whether they're gonna go home that night or not," Coley said.

Coley says the kids, parents, and teachers have been extremely supportive of his presence. He's a deterrent, the first line of defense, and says he's learning something every day at school.

"It's always something new with these kids, it's great, I really love it," Coley said.

Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[A Day in the Life of a School Resource Officer]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 18:55:47 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/215*120/sro-rickards-083018.PNG

Following Deputy Omar Osbourne around is an exercise in, well, exercise. The Broward Sheriff's Office school resource officer is in constant motion at Rickards Middle School in Oakland Park. Patrolling, while simultaneously greeting students, parents, and teachers, Osbourne seems to be everywhere at once.

"If you see something, whatcha gonna do? Say something! That's the rule, you have any issues, you let me know, you let your teacher know, OK? Alright guys, have a great day," the deputy says to a group of kids waiting to enter the school in the morning.

Everyone at Rickards knows Deputy Osbourne, and he seems to know everyone as well.

"Straight A's? Oh my goodness, give me a high five! You got straight A's, too? High five!" Osbourne says to two girls who could not possibly smile any wider.

As parents drop their kids off, Osbourne opens the car doors, greeting students and moms and dads by name. It's all high fives and smiles with a purpose.

"It's very important to build a rapport with the kids, students are our eyes and ears, they talk amongst one another, they're on social media, they know what's going on, you build that rapport with students, they're likely to tell you what's going on," Osbourne said.

Ever since the enormous tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which the SRO on duty was accused of failing to stop the shooter, every SRO knows the job has changed. Parents are simply more worried about safety when they send their kids to school.

"I think about that every day, and that's why I enjoy what I do," Osbourne said.

As the deputy and a school safety monitor patrol outside the school building, checking gates and exterior doors to make sure they're locked, Osbourne says it takes a team to keep a school safe. The SRO can't be everywhere at once.

"We make sure there's nothing suspicious, want to make sure all the kids are in," Osbourne says as we follow him around the campus.

The role of an SRO has changed over the years. It's not enough to simply patrol the perimeter -- the SRO's are mentors, especially for the impressionable sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

"He engages the kids and creates an atmosphere where a child can go to him and say, look at this project, or I'm having a situation and I need your help with it," said Dr. Washington Collado, the principal at Rickards Middle.

"They're in middle school, at the age where they want to go this way and that way, so right now we want to help them get to the next level and mold them into great students," Osbourne said.

Osbourne pops into random classes as well, giving short talks about cyber safety, reporting anything suspicious, bullying and reminding the kids that they can talk to him or their teachers about any issues they might be having.

"We get them on a one-on-one level, sometimes we have group sessions where we can focus on the kids and see, what other areas are they struggling?" Osbourne explained.

So security is more than just locking the doors -- mental health is a critical aspect of the overall effort to keep campuses peaceful. Osbourne says he never stops thinking that he's relied on to be the first line of defense, to provide a sense of calm at school, and to be every kid's cheerleader.

"Your job is to motivate him to get the same grades you get," Osbourne is saying to a couple of boys. "Good job, I want to see straight A's again!"

Both boys walk away beaming. The SRO moves on to the next group of kids, armed with his smile, his good nature, and of course, a gun he hopes will never need to be used.

Photo Credit: NBC 6 ]]>
<![CDATA[Broward Teachers Get Pay Raise]]>Wed, 29 Aug 2018 19:05:57 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Broward_Teachers_Get_Pay_Raise.jpg

Broward voters passed a tax referendum to give teachers a pay raise. NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports.

<![CDATA[New Class Focuses on Miami-Dade Students' Mental Health]]>Wed, 22 Aug 2018 19:10:03 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/dade+mental+health.PNG

School has now started in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. All over South Florida, there has been relentless attention paid to school security and so much talk about cops on campus and upgraded surveillance camera systems.

However, there isn't as much talk about mental health services, even though everyone agrees it's better to prevent a tragedy instead of responding to one.

Broward County Public Schools is in the midst of hiring 50 new mental health counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Miami-Dade County Public Schools created a new Department of Mental Health Services, which is overseeing new programs such as the EDGE class.

EDGE is an acronym for Empowerment Driven to Grow and Engage. The county is testing it in nine middle schools, including West Miami Middle School.

EDGE is designed as an outlet for kids to talk about their feelings, get help if they need it, and much more.

"They learn about bullying prevention, they learn about intervention, so it's a whole curriculum that helps them feel better about themselves," said Katyna Martin, the principal at West Miami Middle.

The class isn't just about making students feel more confident and ready for school, it's designed to uncover potentially destructive issues and to prevent problems in the classroom.

The class is mandatory for every student in the nine pilot schools, which is part of the district's Middle School Redesign initiative. EDGE includes a teacher and a counselor working together, and it covers social and emotional learning, teamwork exercises, and one-on-one mentoring time.

"In this class, you can let out what you're feeling, problems that are going on with you," said Maria Garcia-Amaro, an eighth-grader.

"And it helps you with life, learning, in that class," added classmate Christopher Moreno.

Sometimes, kids have things going on in their lives which they don't share with adults. EDGE is trying to change that.

"Children want to be heard, and the school is where we have the captive audience for them to come and let us know what's going on in their life," Martin said.

The head of the Department of Mental Health Services, assistant superintendent Sally Alayon, said students in middle school are at an age when they're going through rapid changes. It's the perfect time to reach them, so all teachers are being trained in youth mental health first aid.

"To be able to identify those early warning signs and those look-fors when working with students," Alayon said.

She sees this effort as essential for molding emotionally healthy kids and for school security.

"We believe that prevention is the key, if we can get the right programs and services into the schools for our students and staff to share with the students and staff to share with the students then we believe that we are ahead of the game," Alayon said.

And there's an added bonus: the kids love the class.

Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Say Cheese! Miami-Dade Back-to-School Pictures]]>Wed, 22 Aug 2018 15:54:46 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/miami+dade+back+to+school+cover+photo.jpgCheck out this collection of back-to-school pictures from Miami-Dade County.]]><![CDATA[South Florida Bus Drivers Preparing for New School Year]]>Mon, 13 Aug 2018 12:29:20 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/215*120/081318+south+florida+school+buses.PNG

Parents and students, don’t be alarmed if you see school buses rolling through the streets of South Florida on Monday – you didn’t miss the first day of classes while enjoying the last moments of summer.

Drivers from Miami-Dade hit the road for a dry run of the over 1,000 routes that will begin in the coming days, while examining their buses as well as each stop along their route to make sure students will be safe.

An estimated 122,000 students travel on buses every day in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where an additional 820 routes take place.

"I’m excited, and I’m nervous, because the kids don’t know me, I don’t know them," said Elizabeth Gross, a 13-year veteran of driving buses in the county.

Classes begin in Broward County on Wednesday while students in Miami-Dade get a few extra days of summer as classes start next Monday, August 20th.

"Not only are the driver trained and the bus aides trained, but this year in light of recent tragedies they have gone through drills and training protocols," said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Officials remind parents that traffic will be heavier in the coming days and to expect possible delays in the first days. You can track your child's bus with the Transportation Parent Hotline at 305-278-3530.

<![CDATA[Summer Camp Helps At-Risk Kids Prepare for School Year]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 19:26:00 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/trauma-camp-fiu.PNG

Every child needs a strong educational foundation. Research shows that a foundation needs to be built as early as possible so that by the time a child starts kindergarten, he or she is ready to hit the ground running.

Being kindergarten-ready, though, is not easy for kids who come from homes wracked by poverty and dysfunction, from neighborhoods beset by violence and crime.

That's where the FIU Summer Academy makes a difference. It's a seven-week, comprehensive school readiness program for at-risk pre-K children.

"All of the children that attend our program have moderate to severe learning and behavioral needs, they're already showing some early risk factors that we know are gonna impact their transition to kindergarten and what we want to do is help them and their families get off to kindergarten on the right foot," said Dr. Katie Hart, the camp director and assistant professor at FIU's Center for Children and Families.

The FIU Summer Academy in Liberty City has 43 kids learning academic skills with a huge dose of TLC. The counselors, one for every three campers, dole out a ton of hugs. They also get kids up to speed. When they started the program six weeks ago, only 40 percent were reading at grade level. Now 80 percent are.

"So school readiness isn't just about the academics that kids need to learn to be prepared for the environment of kindergarten, but also the behavioral and social-emotional preparation that they need to be successful and thrive in the kindergarten setting," Hart explained.

They use sports, like kickball, to teach teamwork and socialization skills.

"In a game environment you're learning so many different things that you need to know to be a good friend, to be a good player on a team, a good sport," Hart said.

The camp gets parents involved, too. The counselors teach moms and dads the same skills they use to manage behaviors.

"And also, not just behaviors, but we're also encouraging, really focusing on those early literacy and numeracy skills that are the building blocks of the transition to kindergarten," explained Randi Cheatham-Johnson, an FIU doctoral student who runs the parenting part of the camp.

This pre-K boot camp works. The data from nine years of this program shows kids who graduate from the FIU Summer Academy are eight times less likely to be retained in kindergarten, they're less likely to be referred to special education programs and more likely to have the academic skills they need to do well in school.

It's a classic example of how early intervention can put kids on the path to academic success.

<![CDATA[Coral Springs Teacher Building Meditative Space for Students]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 19:38:52 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/coral-springs-debi-london.jpg

One Coral Springs educator is trying to change her students' lives through art and technology -- but she needs some help with specific materials.

"My wish list is that I'm in desperate need for some rocks," Debi London said. "I need hundreds and hundreds of them."

London, an art teacher from James S. Hunt Elementary School, has a colorful vision for those stones. She's trying to create a restorative space for her students.

"Those are specifically gonna be dedicated to peace and kindness words, as a visual reminder that we must all do acts of peace and kindness every day in our classroom, our school and our community," she said.

From hand painted lady bugs to peace signs, London is hoping these heart rocks inspire strength, happiness, and joy especially in the wake of recent tragic events in the Parkland and Coral Springs community.

"What we're going to do to honor the children and the victims and their families is we're gonna have 21 stepping stones painted by some of our artists here as a visual reminder that we won't forget," she said.

Their dream is to use the painted pebbles to transform an outdoor spot into a meditative butterfly garden complete with rainbow benches. They want it to be a place where kids and teachers can reflect and unwind.

To help achieve her goal of more art supplies, London is using the website Donors Choose.

"It's kinda what I like to call my little wish list," she said. "I think of a project, I write a project and I let the site do their magic."

With the help of the charity website, London's mission is to enrich the lives of her students.

"The school that I teach at is a Title I school, and I have all these wonderful visions and I want my students to receive the best materials, art supplies and technology," London said.

To help London fulfill her mission for her students, check out the Donors Choose pages here and here.

NBC 6, Telemundo 51, Communities in Schools and the United Way are teaming up for Supporting Our Schools. From July 16 to July 27, those interested in making donations can do so at participating locations in South Florida. Click here for a list of drop-off locations.

<![CDATA[Getting Involved With Supporting Our Schools]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 15:48:34 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Supporting+Our+Schools+FS.jpg
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<![CDATA[Teacher Works to Raise Money for New Digital Camera]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 23:15:39 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/219*120/072018+birding.png

Many teachers pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket. But with Supporting Our Schools, an initiative by NBC6 and Telemundo 51, you can pitch in.

One teacher at Jose Marti’s MAST 6-12 Academy has a vision for his student bird watching group, but needs a little help when it comes to raising the big bucks for a new birding camera.

In the midst of all the concrete of the school’s campus lies an urban oasis in the middle of Hialeah.

The serene sounds of birds are there thanks to Andrew Kearns, an avid avian lover. The math and botany teacher has successfully raised funds in the past to create an arboretum, planting trees and bringing birds on campus.

“I brought my 9th grade research students out here and asked them to stand silent and observe for 10 minutes and I was shocked that they were so engaged,” said Kearns. “It got to the point where they would come to class and say ‘Hey Mr. Kearns, are we going birding today?”

But Mr. Kearns isn’t done yet. He is feeding his students’ hunger for knowledge, but needs some help financially for a digital camera.

“Last year through a birding challenge from Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, my kids got surprisingly engaged with birding. They tried to take a lot of pictures with their cell phones but in taking pictures with their phones, they were disturbing the birds so if we get a digital camera with a telephoto lens, we’ll be able to take images of these birds that we’re researching from a greater distance without disturbing them,” said Kearns.

For his goal, Kearns is using Donors Choose, a charity website that gives users easy access to help a classroom in need.

“We have limited funding with the school system and individually, teachers aren’t among the highest paid, so we try to creatively raise money to go ahead and find things that aren’t necessarily in the curriculum,” said Kearns.

Whether it’s mockingbirds or morning doves, the educator has his eyes on bringing his student’s dreams to life.

If you want to help Mr. Kearns and his students, you can click here.

<![CDATA[Free Programs to Prevent Children's 'Summer Slide']]>Mon, 16 Jul 2018 16:32:51 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/child+reading+book.jpg

If your kids love chilling during the summer, surfing the web or getting their fix of video games, there’s a good chance they’re forgetting a lot of what they learned during the school year. It’s called summer slide and education experts say it’s a problem.

“Because they don’t have those activities those resources to keep them stimulated they lose about two to three months of what they learned during the school year,” said Webber Charles with Breakthrough Miami. The program is aimed at helping low-income children succeed academically.

Breakthrough Miami offers a free summer camp at Ransom Everglades. During camp, kids play games and sports but they also have classwork including math and history. Program leaders say children who don’t get this type of stimulation during the summer break are falling behind—especially low income kids who may not have access to summer camps.

“What you have is this kind of cumulative damage to low income students where they’re losing two to three months a year every summer. By the time you get to ninth grade that explodes into a huge achievement gap between low income kids and middle income and high income students,” Charles said.

Fighting the slide doesn’t have to be expensive. There are free resources in places like the local library.

This summer at the Miami Beach library, kids are attending a free robotics camp. It’s a partnership between the Children’s Trust and Augmented Intelligence Academy.

"Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!” shouted some of the children as the robots they had built just won a soccer match. The goal of the camp is to develop engineering and science skills while having fun.

At the local library, you can find other similar summer programs. You can also get free tickets to the most popular museums or even attend classes including art, yoga and foreign language.

Libraries in both Miami-Dade and Broward say you only need a library card to access the services.

“You don’t have to get to us because we can come to you virtually,” said Michele Stiles with Miami-Dade Public Library System

With a library card and apps like Axis 360 or Overdrive—you can read or listen to thousands of books on a cell phone, tablet or computer. Experts say reading is the most important thing kids can do to maintain their grade level skills

“The research says that in order for a student to maintain all of the learning that they’ve learned during the school year they need to read six books in a summer,” Charles said.

There are ways to figure out your child’s reading level or find a list of recommended books for your child’s grade level.

And to improve those writing skills, Quill provides free writing prompts. 

For students who want to get ahead of the pack and take free classes to earn school credits you can check out Florida Virtual School.

Although too much screen time can be bad, experts say technology can be an important academic tool, especially during the summer. Several experts recommend Khan Academy. The website offers free lessons in all sorts of subjects for all grades. It even helps students prepare for university entrance exams.

Other sites like Skillshare, Masterclass  and even YouTube, can help kids develop a new talent such as fashion design, photography or web design. No matter what the program or strategy - the key is to keep the brain working during the summer.

Kids at Breakthrough Miami said it will help with their long-term goals.

“My goal is to graduate. I want to be the second member in my family to graduate because only one person did it. So I want to graduate with one of the really good colleges in the United States and I want to make my mom proud,” said Yandi Zuniga, a Breakthrough Miami student.

<![CDATA[Miami-Dade Schools Earn First-Ever 'A' Rating]]>Thu, 28 Jun 2018 18:00:07 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-925976114.jpg

For the first time in its history, Miami-Dade County Public Schools have received an "A" rating from the state.

Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho celebrated the news on Twitter Wednesday, adding that in addition to the rating, there were no "F"-rated traditional schools in the county for the second year in a row.

"The ONLY way a school district can earn an 'A'-rating as @MDCPS has just done for the first time in its history, is through the critically important work of its teachers," Carvalho tweeted.

He was expected to hold a news conference Thursday to discuss the rating. Miami-Dade is the nation's fourth-largest school district with nearly 350,000 students and more than 40,000 employees.

The ratings are released by the Florida Department of Education based on up to 11 components, including student achievement and learning gains on statewide, standardized assessments and high school graduation rate.

Broward County missed an "A" grade by just two percentage points, with 96 percent of its schools earning an "A," "B," or "C" rating. Only one school - North Side Elementary in Fort Lauderdale - earned an "F."

Monroe County Schools also earned an "A" rating from the state.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Miami-Dade School District "A" Rated]]>Wed, 27 Jun 2018 22:18:01 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Miami-Dade_School_District__A__Rated.jpg

The Miami-Dade School District was given an "A" rating. NBC 6 Reporter Ari Odzer explains.

<![CDATA[Education on 6 Special Report: Superintendents on Safety]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2018 21:50:04 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/062518+Ed+on+6+Special.png

The superintendents of Broward County and Miami-Dade County joined local students, parents and teachers to discuss school safety ahead of the upcoming academic year.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie met with a 12-member panel of community members, including with members of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.

NBC 6 anchors Jackie Nespral and Jawan Strader hosted the hour-long special. Education on 6 reporter Ari Odzer contributed with questions from the community received from social media.

The issue of school safety has been at the forefront of discussion in South Florida education following the Parkland school shooting on Feb. 14.

<![CDATA[JROTC Students Participate in STEM Camp Program]]>Wed, 13 Jun 2018 20:09:43 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/218*120/061318+jrotc.jpg

The junior ROTC programs in South Florida high schools provide several benefits to students. Leadership skills, discipline, and personal responsibility come to mind. Now, thanks to a summer camp funded by the Army, you can add science training to that list.

300 JROTC cadets, each selected by his or her commander, are spending a week at what you might call STEM boot camp at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. They come from Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough counties.

They’re building on knowledge they’ve learned at school.

“But this takes it to another level, you have to apply those skills, while these kids can ace a test, that’s easy for them, but when it comes to apply that in a real-world environment, that’s when it starts getting shaky, so the more we introduce them to that environment, the better they are and prepared they are to move on to bigger and better things,” said Major Thomas Johnson, the JROTC leader at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach.

The camp includes courses in a variety of STEM fields, including aerospace engineering, in which students build gliders. Jamie Gagnon, a student at Coconut Creek High School, described her airplane to us just before she tossed it to demonstrate its flight capabilities.

“Everything is very symmetrical, so with symmetry comes great flow with the air, so you don’t get that much force going to the front of it,” Jamie said.

In another class, the kids design and build miniature drag racing cars out of balsa wood. The cars zoom down a sixty-foot track at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour. How do they know how fast they’re going? It’s all about math. 

“I love doing the calculations and dividing and multiplying, multiplying again and then dividing back to find the ultimate miles per hour,” said Samantha Semas, a student at Hollywood Hills High School.

The campers are learning rocket science by building and launching rockets.

“We take the tangent and we extrapolate the height from that using Pythagorean theorem, so there is a lot of math involved behind this little device here,” explained Katherine Metheny, a student at Newsome High near Tampa, as she held a rocket in her hand.

Another group of students showed off their catapult and their knowledge of physics at the same time they launched a wiffle ball. 

“We have the potential energy when you pull it down like that and then once it’s being released it’s kinetic energy and then while it’s in the air, that’s gravitational potential energy,” said Alexis Vera, a student at Alonso High School in Hillsborough County.

The cadets get a full immersion STEM experience while they also experience life on a college campus. Major Johnson says the idea is to get them ready for life away from home and for potential careers in the STEM fields.

They’re more ready for lift-off than ever before. 

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Floranada Elementary School]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:45:10 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/060418+Last+Brag.png

Lennon and McCartney would be proud. We watched the ukulele ensemble at Floranada Elementary School play “Let It Be” and they totally killed it.

Creating a ukulele group is one of the unique highlights of the music program at Floranada. It builds a foundation for kids to move on to playing guitar and other instruments.

“So music at the elementary level is the foundation for music through all the grade levels so as a music educator our hope is to spark a passion with these children so by the time they get to middle school, high school, they want to continue being a part of an amazing music program,” said music teacher Jared Doyle.

Debate performance in fifth grade? They’re got it at Floranada, one of 16 clubs at the school. It’s that menu of opportunities that teachers there say makes the school stand out.

“All of our special projects make it different and all of the activities,” said veteran teacher Elyse Friedman-Brunt.

Among the different activities here is the Vex-IQ robotics team. The kids finished 127th in the world this year, out of thousands of teams.

They’re also big on parent involvement at Floranada. The principal says there are parent volunteers at the school every single day. It’s part of the effort to cultivate a welcoming atmosphere, along with options for kids to develop and follow their passions at a young age.

“Academics is one component and having 82% proficiency on the last test was awesome in third grade, but it’s bigger than that, it’s the culture you get when you walk in the front door and everyone wants to say hi to you,” said John Vetter, the principal.

“Floranada’s a family and we’re a creative family, not just a family that argues, we’re a family that plays together and learns together and explores new things together,” added Friedman-Brunt.

The school’s Peer Buddies program matches general education kids with autistic and special needs students. It’s a win-win for everyone.

“It’s an opportunity for them to really get to know one another and to not be afraid of a child who’s a little bit different, as a matter of fact that’s something to celebrate,” Vetter said.

<![CDATA[MSD Students Reflect On Their Senior Year Before Graduation]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 20:20:52 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/216*120/060118+graduation.jpg

Graduation is supposed to be a time when one chapter ends and a new one begins. It’s just not that simple for the class of 2018 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

“In the past couple of months we’ve had to grow up in a multitude of ways that we never would’ve had to and that we never thought we would’ve had to,” said senior Suzanna Barna.

The seniors say everything is colored by the monumental tragedy their school endured.

“I think you care more about the people around you, an event like the shooting really shows you how important it is, like the value of having good people around you and caring about those people every single day,” said senior Kevin Trejos.

Trejos was one of the school newspaper editors. He says from surviving the terror of February 14th, to sharing so much intense grief, to marching for change, it’s all created a tremendously strong bond and the graduation ceremony on Sunday will be the last time the seniors are all together.

“Those are the kinds of experiences that as friends we relive together, we try and make the best of it,” Trejos explained.

“No one else can identify with what you’ve had to go through,” added Suzanna.

We featured Suzanna in our SWAGon6 segment just a few days before calamity struck her school, when life was still utterly normal.

“Your whole perspective on life and the world kinda just changes after something so tragic happens, it’s hard to describe, you just know nothing’s the same,” Suzanna said.

“It’s changed our view of the world, like for example I know a lot of people who maybe wanted to go to smaller universities or somewhere where not many others would be going, are now choosing to go in-state so they have someone to talk to,” Kevin said. “Having classmates who went to Douglas, who had the same experience as you is really important for a lot of people, it helps you stay sane.”

Kevin and Suzanna are each going to the University of Florida, comforted by knowing that plenty of their friends from Stoneman Douglas will be there for support as well.

First, though, is the graduation ceremony, where everyone will be thinking of friends who aren’t there. 

“It’s a new chapter but it’s also leaving so much behind and it’s not just a normal transition, there’s so much more to it,” Suzanna said. “It’s moving on from what happened without forgetting.”

Like so many Stoneman Douglas students, Suzanna and Kevin are hoping for a fresh start in college. There’s also a realization that the tragedy at their school will always be with them, shaping their lives and informing their perspectives. 

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Raniya Henry]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 20:13:04 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/060118+swag+on+6.jpg

Way back in her freshman year, senior Raniya Henry looked around her school and asked herself a question.

“What can I do to make a difference?” Raniya said.

Her answer was to start her own non-profit group dedicated to uplifting her peers at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School, a group targeting girls such as herself.

“The main goal was just to bring the girls together, really stress to them the importance of sisterhood and respect, our values are giving, integrity, respect, leadership and sisterhood, and that is the acronym for GIRLS and we really stand by that firmly,” said Raniya.

She called her club, “Gifted Girls,” and it was off and running. Raniya sold donuts at school to raise money for t-shirts, then she started holding meetings at which professional women she recruited as mentors would speak to the teenagers.

Raniya made community service projects a mandatory part of membership, volunteering her club to work for Feeding South Florida, Camillus House, and other organizations.

“The impact really has taught the girls the value of service and giving back to the community beyond what goes on in the program,” Raniya said.

To the girls in Gifted Girls, the impact of the club is deeply personal.

“Gifted Girls has shown me to put yourself out there, to have confidence in yourself and always believe that you can do whatever you want to do,” said club member and Krop High student Shaina Ovide.

“Self-esteem, self-worth, and how to change the atmosphere of a situation,” added club member Ludy Francois, saying that’s the takeaway for her.

Krop High’s activities director says Raniya’s creation is almost unprecedented, saying she didn’t even know about Gifted Girls until she saw students wearing the t-shirts.

“She was the one, she initiated it, she did it all, no advisement, no support, she just did it all on her own, and that’s what’s remarkable,” said activities director Michelle Russell. 

Raniya is one of those kids who always seems to be in perpetual motion. She’s already started her own clothing line, she has a blog, and her own YouTube channel.

“It makes you wanna be better just being around her,” said Ludy Francois, also a senior at Krop. “She literally radiates positive energy as soon as she walks in the room.”

Raniya plans on majoring in business at FIU, and since she’s staying home for college, she wants to grow Gifted Girls into something bigger.

“I also see myself being an entrepreneur, owning several businesses, but all around I want to make sure that the target remains helping other girls and other women,” Raniya said. 

Her friends say Raniya is inspiring, energizing, and motivating. In other words, she’s a gifted girl.

“She will not only succeed in whatever she does, but she will impact the world around her as she’s doing it,” predicted Russell. 

<![CDATA[South Florida 6th Grader Competing in National Spelling Bee]]>Thu, 31 May 2018 17:30:50 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/200*120/053118+spelling+bee.jpg

A sixth grader from Davie is moving on to the final round of the National Spelling Bee.

“They are so excited. They are wearing black and yellow today. The past couple of days, all we’ve done is keep track of where she’s at, how she’s doing,” said Katrina Gomez, a teacher at St. Bonaventure Catholic School.

Simone Kaplan, 12, was eliminated from last year’s spelling bee. But this year, she’s back and ready to earn the title of queen bee.

“Last year, I did not do so well, but this year, I’ve made a big improvement,” said Kaplan.

“Every day, she would study after school. During lunch, her mom would give her cards with spelling words to be able to study,” said Danielle Hill, Kaplan’s best friend.

“Our theme this year was pray often and dream big and that’s what Simone has done this year – it’s dream big,” said Lisa Kempinski, the school’s principal.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee competition will take place tonight at 8:30 p.m.

<![CDATA[Task Force Forms to Make Broward Schools Safer]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 19:16:36 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/217*120/053018+safe+school+task+force.jpg

Almost immediately after the Valentine’s Day massacre happened at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, the conversations about making schools more secure started.

“Children will continue to die, we will have more school shootings over and over unless we harden our schools,” said Max Schachter, a Stoneman Douglas parent.

No one is more invested in the effort than the families of the Stoneman Douglas victims. Schachter’s son, Alex, was one of the 17 killed in the rampage.

“Our goal is to bring everyone together focused on making our five Parkland schools the safest and then spread that out to the entire district, entire nation,” Schachter said.

Schachter quit his job and founded Safe Schools for Alex, a non-profit dedicated to making schools more secure. Like the other parents of victims, Schachter channeled his grief into a cause. He has met with lawmakers in Washington and Tallahassee and he has partnered with other groups, such as SOS Parkland, (Secure Our Schools Parkland) to find ways to prevent mass school shootings.

“We’re talking about cameras, we’re talking about bullet detection systems, we’re talking about counter measures that can be launched from law enforcement to really attack the attacker,” Schachter explained.

Schachter led a delegation, which included Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie, to see Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Indiana. It’s been called the safest school in America, and Schachter says it’s a blueprint to follow.

The school has extensive security cameras, every classroom has bulletproof locking doors and safe spaces, teachers can press a button to instantly report an emergency, and police can launch a remote-controlled smoke or pepper spray attack on an intruder from equipment mounted in hallway ceilings. 

It’s designed to slow down, confuse, or incapacitate the bad guy.

“Unless you have that capability to attack the attacker, the children are basically sitting ducks,” Schachter said.

How much does all that technology cost? Schachter says just to install locking, bullet-proof doors with bullet-proof glass would run $3,900 per classroom. That’s $858,000 for Stoneman Douglas High School alone.

The state of Florida allocated $100 million statewide for school hardening projects. That amounts to about $23,000 per public school, a drop in the proverbial bucket. So SOS Parkland has embarked on a fundraising effort, with a GoFundMe page, to make security improvements on their own with the blessings of the Broward County School District.

“The District is supportive of our efforts, they are listening to what we’re talking about,” said Bo Landy, founder of SOS Parkland. “I do know that we are gonna see security changes, it’s not even an “if”, there will be security changes before school starts.”

Landy is also a Parkland parent. He and Schachter, along with other members of their groups, are in the process of evaluating proposals from security companies. 10 firms recently came to Parkland to show off their systems.

Landy and Schachter are also consulting experts on best practices for school safety.

They will report back to Broward school officials with their findings and recommendations.

“It’s all positive, they want to know, they’re anxious to hear what our recommendations are,” Schachter said. “And once we have them we’re going to have a conference with them to go over everything, it’s all got to be coordinated because we don’t want to put something in Stoneman Douglas that’s not going to function with the entire system.”

Sooner rather than later, they say, the public will see physical security improvements along with policy changes coming to local schools.

Schachter says he hopes eventually, there will be national standards for all schools to follow.

“I was extremely upset and angered by the fact that we have fire codes and have had them to prevent children dying in a fire since 1958, but we don’t have national school safety standards,” Schachter said. 

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Harold Sarmiento]]>Fri, 25 May 2018 20:02:59 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/217*120/052518+swag+on+6.png

Walk into the band room at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, and there’s a good chance you’ll find Harold Sarmiento practicing on his trumpet.

The band director says this junior from Colombia has become a near-virtuoso player. Harold says being part of the marching band is his passion.

“The band is like a family to me,” Harold said.

His other school family is a group of students he leads on the InvenTeam. The kids are designing and building a device to fight the zika virus.

“My friends and I started brainstorming ideas of how we can help our community,” Harold explained. “So we thought about creating a mosquito disrupter that vibrates on the surface of the water and prevents reproduction,”

Their proposal won a prestigious Lemelson-MIT Eurekafest grant. The team from Northeast High will present its work to a panel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next month.

“They chose 15 high schools from all over the country so the fact that we’re one of them is an amazing honor,” Harold said.

Harold has come a long way, geographically, educationally, and socially. When his family moved to the United States, Harold knew zero English. He started learning the language in fifth grade. 

“When I first came to the country everything was new, the culture, the language, I wasn’t able to have any friends,” said Harold, describing a familiar situation for immigrants.

He overcame that barrier, then last year, a severe thyroid issue which required surgery set him back.

His classmates saw the obstacles and recognize a fighter when they see one. Harold just may be the most admired student on campus, and definitely among the sharpest.

“Very, very, very fast mind, and while you’re speaking to him, you can see it in his eyes, like he’s already 10 steps, 20 steps ahead of you,” said Clara Mabour, Harold’s science teacher and supervisor of the InvenTeam.

Harold is one of those kids who’s just not comfortable talking about himself. His peers, however, are happy to tell you how impressive he is. They say Harold represents a type of role model they aspire to become.

“I think they have perseverance, amazing perseverance, and they really know what they want to achieve, they know how to get to it,” said senior Coleen Sailsman, who is heading to UF in the fall and says Harold’s destined to go “amazing places!”

Sophomore Halle Shelton says Harold brings everyone’s morale up.

“His positive attitude, the way he goes about life, whenever something goes wrong, instead of being like, oh my God and panicking, he takes a deep breath, assesses the situation and just pulls through,” Halle said. “It’s a really admirable quality.”

Harold says adversity doesn’t last forever, which is his message to any students facing obstacles in their path.

“Just keep working because you’re gonna be awesome at the end,” Harold said.

Sound advice, and who knows, you may even learn to toot your own horn. 

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Hialeah's American Sr. High School]]>Mon, 21 May 2018 19:08:26 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052118+Swag+or+Brag+or+something.png

It seemed fitting at the time, and it still fits now. They named it American Senior High School because it opened in the nation’s Bicentennial year, 1976. So the school has had time to build a legacy of success, but it’s not interested in history, it’s looking forward.

For example, they started a culinary arts program this year, they’re making a push to expand the drama club, and they’re adding four more Cambridge Academy courses to bring the total to 13.

They have four other academies, including engineering, fine arts, law, and medical sciences.

“Each of those academies is one that allows the students to grow in the field they’re interested in, and to be able to showcase what they know,” said principal Francisco Garnica.

In recent years, American High has made a concerted effort to bring more extracurricular options to campus.

“We have so many ways to express yourself, non-academically heer at American Senior High, even if you have an idea, and you want us to take it on, we’ll go ahead and do it, we have a fishing club that just started,” said Samuel Gbadebo, the activities director, citing an example that is rare among scholastic clubs.

Speaking of hooks, the Mighty Marching Patriots Band can lay down a groove or blow the doors off the gym, depending on the occasion.

The cheerleading team is the pride of American High right now, because they’re the reigning international champions. Is that good? We’re pretty sure that’s good.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what it is they’re gonna bring this year!” Garnica said.

Obviously, it’s a special group, but there’s a unique program here that makes special needs kids feel ultra special. It’s called the American Patriot Runner, a fitness and nutrition club that gives its members, some of whom are non-verbal, some of whom have autism, purpose and a huge dose of self-esteem.

“What it’s done for them, being on a team gives you that belonging and makes you feel confident and you have the power of family,” said Annie Perez, the physical education teacher who runs the AP Runners.

A school called the Patriots has to have a strong JROTC program, and American High has one.

“They know exactly what it is that is expected of them and they live up to a higher standard,” Garnica said of the team’s members.

Speaking of higher standards, we saw an AP Literature class which had only 15 students, an optimal learning environment. Garnica says these days, providing challenging academics isn’t enough, schools have to offer more.

“The idea is that it’s not just academics, we have to make sure that we showcase what is it that we have in the building that is additional to academics,” said Garnica, emphasizing the need to attract students and keep them engaged.

In a part of Miami-Dade County which has five other public high schools in nearby proximity, the competition for students keeps all of them on their toes, constantly looking for ways to innovate and separate themselves from each other.

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Miami Beach High School's Alejandro Ortega]]>Fri, 18 May 2018 19:17:50 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/051818+SWAG+6.png

He’s president of the Miami Beach High School psychology club, but what about his own psyche? What drives Alejandro Ortega to succeed? It could be the responsibility he feels as an immigrant to this country.

“It’s an obligation for me as someone who was presented this opportunity, out of all the people that could’ve been presented these opportunities, to take advantage of them,” Alejandro said.

You can sense Alejandro has a chip on his shoulder. He has seized every opportunity with perseverance and an insane work ethic, earning straight A’s all through high school, while overcoming severe economic disadvantages.

“It makes me more passionate about my goals,” Alejandro acknowledges.

“From the moment he first walked into my class, I knew right away that this kid was going places because he was always working extra,” said his AP Psychology teacher, Melissa Balgobin.

His teachers knew it, his classmates knew it, Alejandro set the bar high for everyone.

“Above and beyond was his normal, and it’s not something you see every day,” Balgobin said.

“Especially with his determination to do well in school,” added classmate Gabi Rodriguez.

Among his peers, Alejandro is the go-to guy for help with school work and for moving something from idea to reality.

Classmate Melanie Haber approached him with an idea to form a human rights club, and Alejandro ran with it.

“Whenever he finds something he’s passionate about he is 100% in it to win it,” Melanie said.

Coming here from Venezuela, which is a human rights disaster these days, gave Alejandro extra motivation to found the Amnesty International chapter at Beach High.

“It’s something that’s very devastating to me on a deeply personal level,” Alejandro explained.

The senior has made it his mission to raise human rights awareness on campus. Among many other events, he organized an immigrant pride day.

“To make that statement that we are a diverse community and we will protect every single one of our students because they’re all important and bring something very unique to the table,” Alejandro said, pointing out that his school has students from all over the world.

All the activism and hard work paid off. Alejandro was accepted to the nation’s top universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. He chose Yale, and says if he can do it, anyone can with enough determination.

“Just because you may fall down 9 times doesn’t mean you can’t get up 10 times,” Alejandro said.

That attitude will serve him well in the Ivy League and beyond.

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Davie's Western High School]]>Mon, 14 May 2018 19:08:50 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/051418+Brag+6.png

What happens when mild-mannered history teacher Peter Viola decides to get into character? He transforms into MC Hero D (a tribute to ancient Greek historian Herodotus) and the rhymes start flowing.

“MacArthur led troops bravely into the ocean/While Ike gathered forces, setting D-Day in motion/A foothold was gained that would change the equation,” Viola raps, teaching his students about World War II.

Western High School in Davie pushes the envelope in a lot of ways. The debate team just finished first at the national tournament. They’re national champs because they work really hard, they meet every day in school and twice a week after school.

“And then we go to every conceivable debate tournament there is so that we can get more practice,” said Nancy Dean, the debate teacher. “They learn how to speak to people and look at people in the eye, persuade people on either side of an argument.”

Debate isn’t the only way the Western Wildcats are raising their profile. The robotics team won the state championship and was the only South Florida team to make it to the international competition. It’s part of the school’s STEM department, which also includes rocketry, biotech, and a solar-powered car.

The Solar Cat is designed and built by students, who will race it this summer from Texas to California.

“It’s very high-level stuff, they’re building a car that has the capability of going half-way across the country, so yeah, it’s very high level,” said Derek Hicks, who teaches math and robotics.

“And the skills that they learn in both those programs, STEM and debate, it’s really something that you can’t put a price on,” said Jimmy Arrojo, Western High’s principal. “That teamwork, trial and error, failure and overcoming failures, it’s something that you learn outside the classroom and that’s why they’re so good.”

Western High has the Cambridge and AP Capstone programs, and its softball team is going to the state finals. They do a lot of things, and they do them well.

“When they think of Western I’d like them to think that it’s one of the best schools in the state,” Arrojo said, referring to the public image of his school. “Honestly, with the quality teachers and students we have here, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be considered one of the best in the country.”

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Deerfield Beach High School’s Guadalupe Rivera]]>Fri, 11 May 2018 18:51:55 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/051118+SWAG+on+6.png

Being the president of three clubs says something loud and clear about a student’s popularity and leadership skills.

Guadalupe Rivera leads Deerfield Beach High School’s chapter of HOSA, which stands for Health Occupation Students of America. She’s president of the National Technical Honor Society, and the first president of a new club called the BRACE Ambassadors.

The BRACE Ambassadors act like an extension of the school’s college advisor, encouraging the college dreams of their peers.

“The problem is that students think that there’s no opportunity for them to succeed in college, or the money, it’s always the money problem,” Guadalupe said.

So Guadalupe started an intense effort to get her peers to fill out the FAFSA forms, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The goal was to raise the percentage of students from 37% last year to over 50% this year, and she succeeded.

The Ambassadors also spread the word about various scholarship opportunities and helped their classmates fill out college entry applications. It all worked so well, the college advisor says the Ambassadors opened the doors of opportunity to dozens of kids.

“It makes me feel really happy because I have a passion to help students and everyone else around me so if we all achieve something together that’s greatness, that’s what success looks like,” Guadalupe said.

“The reason she’s so exceptional,” said Michelle Davis, the school’s college advisor, “is because she’s not only concerned about getting all the opportunities for herself, that ambition, but she wants to make sure other students do as well.”

Guadalupe wasn’t always so destined for success. As a freshman, she was considered an at-risk kid. Now she’s about to graduate with a four-year scholarship to Broward College. How did she manage that trajectory? The “Take Stock in Children” mentoring program saw Guadalupe’s potential early, they supported here, and she did the rest.

“It does make you feel prideful, not to brag or anything, but it is a huge deal, it just makes me feel like I was given an opportunity and I’m not gonna let it go,” Guadalupe said. “Because sometimes things come to you and they become like dreams and you become something great.”

That’s why kids gravitate toward her, Guadalupe’s positive, can-do attitude is infectious.

“She’s resilient and she makes opportunities for herself, she doesn’t wait for things to come to her,” said Valencia Simmons, a senior and one of Guadalupe’s classmates.

“She’s a role model for many people, especially me,” said junior Leandra Fisher, a member of the BRACE Ambassadors. “She’s kinda like what I want to do with my high school years.”

Guadalupe wants to be a nurse practitioner. Her parents moved here from Mexico and went through a lot of hardship, so she knows what adversity is like. She’s an example for other kids to follow, especially those who don’t have opportunities handed to them on a silver platter.

“My advice to them is if you can get through yesterday, you can get through today,” Guadalupe said.

Words to live by, which is why this young woman’s tomorrow is so bright.

<![CDATA[Seven Miami-Dade High Schools Ranked Among Tops in US]]>Thu, 10 May 2018 07:26:23 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/218*120/050118+iprep+academic+signing+day+pic+1.PNG]]><![CDATA[Broadway Role Model for Taravella High School]]>Wed, 09 May 2018 19:32:45 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/050918+Ed+on+6.png

In Ms. Sessions’ musical theatre class at Taravella High School in Coral Springs, just about everyone has dreamed the impossible dream of Broadway. One of her former students actually turned that near-impossible goal into reality.

“He always says when can I come in, when can I talk to your students?” said Lori Sessions, the drama teacher at Taravella High.

She’s talking about Etai Benson, who went from Taravella class of 2005 all the way to his current role as Papi in the Tony-nominated musical, “The Band’s Visit” on Broadway. Benson also starred in “An American in Paris” and he played Bok in “Wicked”.

“When he was in Wicked, he met the students outside after the show, talked to them, did a talk-back with them, then even walked around the city us,” Sessions said, describing a class field trip a few years ago to New York.

Benson, she says, has no star ego.

“I’m in a hit Broadway show now and I’m very lucky but when that’s over I’m back to the drawing board, I’m auditioning and hustling and looking for my next gig,” Benson said. “I’m very blessed to make a living off of what I do, but it’s not like my life is all glamorous with parties and limos and stuff like that.”

When a high school coach has an athlete who makes it to the professional level, that in and of itself can be inspiring to everyone else who has similar ambitions. In this scenario, Benson is the star athlete.

“Knowing that someone from this program can reach that height is really, really inspiring,” said Boaz Levy, a student in the drama program.

“And to know that someone who sat where we’re sitting now is living the dream makes it feel more realistic,” added drama student Morgan Wolfe.

Benson credits Sessions with much of his success, saying the skills he learned in her high school class shaped his career. He recently came home to perform in the “From Broadway With Love” charity concert at the BB&T Center, which benefitted the ShineMSD Fund and the MSD Victims Fund.

“Stoneman Douglas was our rival high school, so when I saw the events unfolding it was devastating and I felt I had to be there,” Benson said. “I’m still very, very shaken by it, and I never thought that I’d be here to help heal after something like this, it’s my honor and privilege to do so, but I never imagined that I would.”

He did imagine, when he was in Ms. Sessions’ class, that he could one day make a living in theatre.

Benson knows, however, that it takes an extraordinary combination of talent, perseverance, and luck to become a successful actor, so his advice to kids is to pursue any other love instead of show business.

“But if this is what you have to do, and you know it in your heart and soul, then you have to follow it, and you have to at least give it a shot,” Benson said.

One never knows, maybe another kid from Taravella will follow Benson to the neon lights of Broadway.

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Pembroke Pines Charter High School]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 19:14:04 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/050718+Brab+Bout.png

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for the seniors at Pembroke Pines Charter High School who got into their dream colleges. It’s a tradition at the school for those students to pull the rope and ring the bell in the tower, shouting the name of the college or university they’ll be attending in the fall.

It fits with the public charter school’s college prep mission.

“We have a purpose statement that is, we’re empowering students for the possibilities of tomorrow, and I think we do that by giving them a variety of choices and opportunities to get involved and to do things beyond academics, but also inclusive of their academics,” said principal Peter Bayer.

The debate program is a good example of what the principal is talking about. The team at Pines Charter has been ranked in the top ten nationally and regularly competes for state championships.

The coach says debate gives the kids confidence combined with the ability to think logically and quickly.

“The kind of practical practice, of those quick moments where you have to think and adjust to be able to respond logically and clearly to someone is only gonna benefit them for the rest of their lives, you can’t buy that kind of practice,” said Kelly Schwab, who revived a dormant debate program a few years ago, taking ques from the neighboring public schools. “We have a lot of good debate programs down here and it ends up benefitting everybody.”

Pines Charter has a real commitment to the arts, including everything from band to drum line to a wind quartet in music, and visual arts which includes computer graphic design. Sounds like fun, but students are on notice, this place is not for slackers.

“It’s very much college preparatory, we only have six classes a day because there’s all academics, even art gets homework,” Bayer said.

Pines Charter is owned by the City of Pembroke Pines, not a for-profit company, which makes it a rarity among charter schools.

When you look at the yearbook, you might think you’ve stumbled into Hogwarts School of Wizardry from the Harry Potter stories.

That’s because certain pages have an embedded digital code.

Students download an app to their wands, I mean cell phones, and when they hold the phone over the page, the photographs turn to moving video. You know how the newspapers in Harry Potter have video instead of photographs? It’s sort of like that.

For real. The pages have videos of the basketball team, softball team, drama performances, you get the picture. Well, you do if you have the app. Is it sorcery?

“Well it’s not sorcery, it’s technology,” said Faran Fagen, the yearbook teacher. “It adds a whole new dimension to the yearbook.”

There’s a waiting list for this school of 2,000 students, and

Pembroke Pines residents get first dibs.

Parents have to be willing to commit to at least 30 hours of volunteer time per school year. That’s the rule the principal says ensures a student body dedicated to learning.

“We’re very diverse and we have kids from all walks of life but all of them are coming from families and homes that are committed to their son or daughter’s education and willing to be involved in it,” Bayer said.

<![CDATA[Freebies, Deals Offered for 'Teacher Appreciation Week' ]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 10:39:41 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CHIPOTLE10.jpgHere are some local deals educators can fill up on when the dismissal bell rings and they leave the classroom:

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Education on 6: Lake Stevens Middle School]]>Wed, 02 May 2018 18:56:38 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/050218+Ed+on+6.png

They can sell the sizzle, but there’s a whole lot of steak, too, in the Lake Stevens Middle School culinary arts program. Yes, it’s a middle school, one of a handful in all of South Florida to offer culinary arts as an elective.

Last school year, the principal saw an old, unused home economics room and envisioned new possibilities.

“Three major ingredients came together,” said principal Jorge Bulnes. “A dynamic teacher, an old home-ec room which we reimagined into a fully functional kitchen, as well as invested and amazing children.”

It’s not just cooking. The students are learning skills and absorbing knowledge that can help them in high school, college, and beyond.

“And it’s even more unique to have a middle school culinary arts program that incorporates the interior design, decorating, the creativity that our children have so we’re a one-stop shop for the creatives,” said Angel Myers, the culinary arts teacher.

The “creatives” are designing menus for their big, upcoming dinner event on May 15th, the Spartan Bistro, in which they transform the library into a fancy restaurant. (It’s open to the public, contact the school for details.) Another group of students is creating the centerpieces for the event.

“When you think of culinary, you think of cooking, not really interior decorating,” said Ramona Smith, an eighth-grader in the class who says she’s better in arts and crafts than preparing food.

"Our kids understand what a balanced diet is, what it looks like, how to make it and then go home, share it with their siblings, with their families, and hence it impacts the community,” Bulnes said.

Proving the principal’s point, eighth-grader Jose Machado said, “I’m actually learning more recipes, when it comes to home, and I’m actually able to start cooking for my family.”

Cooking, of course, is still the core of any culinary program, and even at this age, kids are thinking, this could be a career.

Daniel Smith told us he wants to be a chef when he grows up, “Because I like cooking, it’s fun, and I love to eat.”

Can’t beat that rationale. Might as well pursue your passion.

<![CDATA[South Fla. School Sending Entire Senior Class to College]]>Tue, 01 May 2018 13:28:49 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/050118+iprep+academic+signing+day+pic+3.PNG]]><![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Miami Arts Studio @ Zelda Glazer]]>Mon, 30 Apr 2018 19:01:50 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/043018+BRAG+6.png

Miami Arts Studio @ Zelda Glazer 6-12 is a mouthful to say. It’s also an example of two growing trends in education. MAS combines middle and high school on one campus and it’s an all-magnet school, meaning it has no boundaries, attracting students from everywhere.

Students pick one of eight “studios” to join: Band, Broadcasting, Dance, Entertainment Law, Orchestra, Technical Production, Theatre, and Vocal.

There are also auditions involved, so the talent pool is deep.

“We’ve had over 2,000 apply this past year for approximately 400 slots so it’s a competitive process,” said principal Mike Balsera.

MAS is performing arts heaven. Just in music, there’s concert band, jazz band, orchestra, and an acapella choir.

“And we try to incorporate every possible culture and style, time period into the education,” said music teacher Ryan Ellis, explaining how music students learn more than just the music.

“When you walk the halls, it’s very unique, you have kids playing instruments, you have kids singing, and for us it’s just a normal day at school, but any time a visitor comes in and sees the dynamics of the school they’re truly amazed by what goes on here on a daily basis,” Balsera said.

The school even has its own professional-quality recording studio, in which kids do all the sound engineering. There’s so much performance talent here it’s easy to overlook the other programs.

Academically, MAS is an “A” school, and this year’s first graduating class is sending two students to the Ivy League.

It also has a powerhouse mock trial team, including the reigning state champs at the middle school level. Students in the law program, learn the Constitution, rules of evidence, courtroom procedure, and more.

“Not only that, but how to think on your own and not be manipulated or coerced into thinking certain ways, we make sure that they leave here as independent thinkers,” said Marta Salazar, the law teacher.

They also learn the value of giving back. The school is one of the leaders in community service hours.

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Boyd Anderson High School's Erika Tumar]]>Fri, 27 Apr 2018 19:22:20 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/SWAG_on_6_Erika_Tumar.jpg

Name the community service project, and Erika Tumar has probably been involved in it. Beach cleanups, walks to support cures for various diseases, fund raisers at school, she’s helped to organize all of those events multiple times.

Her favorite cause, though, is the community garden around the corner from Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes. Erika volunteers countless hours there, planting and weeding and harvesting vegetables which are donated to senior citizens at a nursing home and to people who have trouble making ends meet.

Gardening brings Erika back to her roots.

“It kinda brought me back to a place of humility where I was just like, I know what it’s like to not have everything that you want, so me giving, it warmed my heart up a little bit because I’m helping somebody, I’m feeding people, I’m feeding the community,” Erika said.

At Boyd Anderson High, everyone knows Erika.

“I’m the face, I’m the face of the school,” Erika said, laughing.

She was voted “Miss Boyd Anderson,” but that hasn’t gone to Erika’s head for a second. She’s too busy excelling in the rigorous International Baccalaureate magnet program, leading the Sister to Sister service club, and impressing everyone with her reliability and persistence.

“If there’s a project that needs to be done, and it looks like it’s not going to happen, she is going to ensure that it happens,” said Lashondra Taylor, a teacher and sponsor of the Sister to Sister club.

Taylor says she spotted Erika’s leadership potential as a freshman, and says in four years, Erika has become a model of responsibility.

“I want to be, you know, something good for my community, myself, for my family, somebody they can look up to and I can look up to myself as well,” Erika said.

Erika’s one of the leaders of the Mentoring Tomorrow’s Leaders program, setting an example for her younger peers to follow.

“She’s a role model because even after she fails, she keeps striving to do better, she never gives up,” said Elijah Derico, a freshman who says Erika inspired him to try harder in his classes.

“She’s good at everything she does, if she tries something or she does something, she puts all her effort in it, you know?” said Brena Davis, another freshman who has benefitted from peer counseling sessions with Erika.

Erika is the kid who’s never not on the honor roll, the student who flies over every hurdle.

“Even though she lost her mom, she has never used that as an excuse for anything,” Taylor said.

In fact, you could say losing her mom just before high school started fuels Erika’s ambition.

“I know what it’s like to struggle with financial issues, I know what it’s like to struggle losing a parent so that was definitely my motivation because every day I would think, what would my mom want me to do?” said the senior, bound for the University of Central Florida in the fall.

We’re assuming her mom would want Erika to be doing what she’s already doing: on the path to becoming a doctor one day, and always looking for ways to help others along the way.

<![CDATA[Code Red Drills Prepare Students for Active Shooter Threat]]>Wed, 25 Apr 2018 19:12:31 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/NBC_6_Code_Red_Drill.jpg

After the unspeakable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it seemed everyone learned about Code Red drills.

These are the drills done in schools all over South Florida and the nation, sometimes called active shooter drills, in which students and teachers practice what to do in case someone with a gun starts shooting people on campus. However, hearing about these training exercises from our kids is one thing, seeing them is another.

“I think the kids have to know the reality of what’s going on, and I don’t think the parents or the community in general really knows what we’re asking the kids to practice doing,” said Patrick Manley, a teacher at Avant Garde Academy, a public charter school in Hollywood.

Manley videotaped a Code Red drill in his classroom, to show the community the stark reality of seventh graders barricading the doors with desks and file cabinets, turning tables over to act as bullet shields, and lying face-down on the floor behind the obstacles.

Practicing survival in the worst case scenario, a nightmare that just occurred a few miles away at Stoneman Douglas.

"To practice barricading their classroom, a place where they’re supposed to be safe, and we are teaching them how to best barricade themselves against bullets, and it’s kind of disgusting,” Manley said.

Disgusting, Manley says, that Code Red drills have become a necessity.

Hollywood Police officer Chris Christianson helped develop the Code Red drill protocol used all over Broward County. He says it empowers kids with an action plan.

“Of course, and they’re ready and they’re not scared of it anymore,” Christianson said.

The goal of the Code Red drill is to put obstacles in the path of the shooter, to force him or her to take more time to find targets, to delay long enough for police officers to get there.

“It’s not designed to stop anybody from actually doing the act of shooting and killing, it’s designed to protect them for the two minute magic window before we can get there and end it,” Christianson said, explaining that it usually takes about two minutes for police to arrive at a scene, excluding a School Resource Officer who might already be there.

Lisa Levin has a daughter at the school and says Code Red drills should be done as often as fire drills are done.

“It’s scary, but unfortunately it’s a way of life now,” Levin said. “It’s absolutely reassuring so that they know what to do in case of an active shooter at the school.”

Manley points out that fire drills are done multiple times per year at just about every school, whereas Code Red drills are usually done only once.

“How many teachers or students have died from school fires in the last 60 years? The answer is zero. How many have died in school shootings?” Manley said, his voice trailing off.

Manley teaches robotics. He’d rather concentrate on showing his students how to program computers, but he knows spending a few minutes on Code Red drills could save lives.

That, he says, is indicative of the state of society today, and to ignore the threat is not an option.

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Miramar's Glades Middle School]]>Mon, 23 Apr 2018 18:59:39 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/042318+Brag.png

It’s an “A” school for a reason, and it goes beyond test scores at Glades Middle School in Miramar.

The school has a major commitment to the arts, with a comprehensive music program giving students opportunities to perform in the concert band, jazz band, and chorus. The visual arts offered include painting, drawing, and computer illustration.

It’s all part of the school’s culture.

“The research is clear, once students find what they’re passionate about, above and beyond just the core curriculum, they begin to integrate themselves into the school a lot more and ultimately that’s where they find their purpose,” said Ricardo Santana, the school’s principal.

Glades Middle has the Cambridge Academy, which coordinates with the Cambridge program at Everglades High School next-door to prepare kids for the highest levels of academics.

“We want our students to be well-rounded citizens, we want to focus on the academic rigor we offer here at Glades Middle School with the Cougar Path Academy but also to be able to be global citizens and expand their horizons outside the classroom as well,” said assistant principal Mark Henderson.

The school has a huge classroom space called the 21st Century Village. It’s like STEM paradise, full of drones whizzing by and computer whiz kids coding and robots doing robotic stuff.

The chess club at Glades is one of the best. The team just won a big tournament last week and finished third at the state championships.

“One of the things that’s very important to me as a principal is having an inclusive school where all students have an opportunity to be integrated to our vision,” Santana said.

That vision includes special needs kids. The school has a unique classroom set up just for peer counseling, in which students mentor their special needs classmates and help teach them basic life skills.

“Mentors learn compassion, patience, also socially, how to talk to other people who may not be just like them,” said Melissa Whitley, the teacher who runs the peer counseling program.

They have a mantra: pride, passion, and purpose, and we’ll add a fourth “P”, praises, as we sing the praises of Glades Middle School.

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Coral Park High School's Dalila Valdes]]>Fri, 20 Apr 2018 19:16:37 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/SWAG_on_6_Dalila_Valdes.jpg

So what’s it like to be a recent immigrant in an American high school?

“It’s really hard because you have to adapt to a whole different environment,” said Dalila Valdes, a senior at Coral Park High School in Westchester.

Dalila moved from Cuba to Spain at age 11, and then to Miami four years later. She has adapted so spectacularly well to life in the United States that she’s earned a full scholarship to M.I.T., and she didn’t even know what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was when she was living in Madrid.

“I wanted to study physics, so I just Googled, best university to study physics, and M.I.T. popped up, and I’m going there!” Dalila said with a laugh.

Dalila enrolled at Coral Park in her sophomore year. She quickly picked up English and in her junior year decided to buck her counselor’s advice and challenge herself by taking a lot of AP classes. How many? Eight out of her eight classes. An entire schedule of Advanced Placement, college-level classes.

“I really like science and math but also there was a psychology class and chemistry and statistics and all that stuff, I learn,” Dalila said. “I feel really good for doing that last year because you fill yourself with knowledge and you understand the world more.”

She’s the rare student who enjoys learning for learning’s sake.

“Since I was little everything I want to do is like, just learn, and uncover the mysteries of the universe, that sounds really romantic but it’s really beautiful, it’s a really good path to take,” Dalila said.

Dalila is the kind of kid who just contain herself when it comes to physics and math, she loves those subject so much, she spends three days a week tutoring her peers after school.

“I love math, I see it some way that it’s so beautiful so I think, I want to transmit to other people the way I see it, how elegant and how everything makes sense and everything goes together,” Dalila explained.

She sets the bar of achievement high, and Dalila has inspired her classmates to take harder classes.

“I did it because she did it and that inspired me to do it as well, that gave me confidence,” said fellow senior Sandra Jardines.

“I think that’s another thing that everybody sees in her, the power of, if I can make a difference I will do it,” said Borja Carrillo, a classmate who says he, too, upped his academic game because of Dalila’s influence.

Sandra and Borja are recent immigrants, just like Dalila. She’s an example of what is possible.

“Yeah she’s my role model, I came from Cuba one year ago and I heard the story of the girl from Spain and she did all this stuff and I wanted to be like her,” said classmate Catherine Santana.

To say that Dalila has impressed her teachers would be a massive understatement.

“Her desire is to get the Nobel Prize in physics one day and I don’t doubt that she will,” said physics teacher Ricardo Markland.

So Dalila plans on researching theoretical physics at M.I.T.

“I have the safe thing that I can also apply my physics major to engineering in case I don’t find a job uncovering the mysteries of the universe!” Dalila said, laughing.

She’s learned another crucial lesson: it’s always good to have a backup plan.

<![CDATA[Education on 6: Hallandale High Receives NBC Rise Grant]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 19:36:40 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/041818+Drama+Ari.png

Dramatic things are happening to the drama club at Hallandale High School.

“A huge deal, you have no idea, a major shock to us,” said sophomore Jeremy Fuentes.

The theatre program just won a $10,000 grant from NBC and the Educational Theatre Foundation. It’s called the R.I.S.E. America grant, which stands for Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression, and it’s inspired by the new NBC drama, “Rise,” which is about a high school theatre department’s impact on a working-class community. Hallandale High is one of 50 schools to win out of more than a thousand that applied.

The cash infusion puts the school on a level playing stage, so to speak, with wealthier schools. Most of the students at Hallandale High get free or reduced lunch. A lack of money, not a lack of talent, always restricted what the drama troupe could do.

“40 minute plays where there’s no set, no costumes, very few lights if they were working, and with these funds we can do big productions, we can have costumes, we can buy the rights to “In the Heights,” said drama teacher Kayla Mason.

For the kids, winning the R.I.S.E. grant means more than being able to do bigger productions. It’s also a form of validation.

“That we actually have potential, and we actually can do something more than what we think we are capable of,” said Kylea Starr, a junior in the program.

“It just tells us that we have the same opportunity as any other school, and other schools that have more funding than us,” added Jeremy Fuentes.

Jeremy and the other kids say the characters in “Rise” often mirror their own lives outside of school, with hardships such as poverty, divorce, and needing to help raise younger siblings all being common elements of fiction and real life.

“You wouldn’t know the things our students deal with, and the show highlights it and our students really relate to it,” Mason said.

Theatre helps this diverse bunch of actors get through life and motivates them to do better in school. It’s also obvious from watching them rehearse on stage that the students draw inspiration from each other.

“We’re not just geeks and we’re not just jocks, we’re a family, not just one particular stereotype, we’re many things,” Kylea said.

With the grant money, Mason says she’s bringing in a voice coach for the first time, they’ll be able to afford supplies to build sets, as well as upgrading technical equipment. It’s all to help the core mission of using the stage to bring out the best in the kids.

“Theatre allows me to express myself in ways I never thought were possible,” Jeremy said.

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Plantation's American Heritage]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2018 19:13:31 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/Brag_About_Your_School_American_Heritage_School.jpg

The list of superlatives associated with American Heritage School in Plantation is long. Really long.

The school has the most National Merit Scholars in Florida. Its math, mock trial, robotics, and speech and debate teams often achieve national rankings.

It has powerhouse athletic programs in football, baseball, and soccer and more.

“In high school alone we have 300 different course offerings, so there’s really something for everyone, if someone has a particular interest, chances are we have a class in it,” said Dr. Douglas Laurie, the school’s vice president.

How about architecture? They’ve got it, with students designing buildings on the same computer platforms architects actually use. American Heritage goes from pre-K through 12 grade, so it provides an opportunity for high school kids to mentor the youngsters and set examples for them, academically or by winning the national math team championship, which the Patriots did last year.

“The skill set of how to solve problems and apply the quadratic equation or any other math formula, it transfers over to life and solving problems,” said Rick Rovere, the math team coach.

American Heritage isn’t all STEM-intensive. The school has a major commitment to the arts, from choir to drum line to band and orchestra to musical theatre, drama, photography, painting and drawing.

The school tries to have something for every student, even if the students don’t yet know what they want.

“And what I think it so amazing is they can then figure out what they’re passionate about and when they figure out their passions this school gives them all the opportunities and resources to take that to the highest level, our students become leaders, when they get to college they’re able to hit the ground running,” said principal Elise Blum.

It is a private college prep school, after all, and it’s expensive. Depending on grade level, tuition can run between $20,000 and $30,000. However, the school offers financial aid and a variety of scholarships to make American Heritage more affordable.

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Fort Lauderdale High School's Jayanne Forrest]]>Fri, 13 Apr 2018 20:10:15 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/041318+SWAG+6+Friday.png

Her best event in track and field is the broad jump.

Why is that relevant? Because when you meet Jayanne Forrest, you can instantly tell it doesn’t require a big leap of imagination to realize this powerhouse student is going to achieve her goals.

The senior at Fort Lauderdale High School is hyper-organized and super focused.

“Literally every 30 minute period of my day is planned out,” Jayanne said.

Among a group of high achievers at her school, Jayanne still manages to stand out. She’s the captain of the title-winning debate team, co-captain of the track and field team, and she’s a Silver Knight nominee for her work mentoring young track athletes.

Jayanne is headed to the Ivy League to study biochemistry and African-American philosophy at Columbia University. She wants to become a pediatrician and eventually open her own clinic to provide health care to the poor. Calling her multifaceted is an understatement.

“I don’t think that I was the most phenomenal athlete by any means, I think that leading the team in being one of the captains of the track and field team wasn’t really about performing the best it was about learning to lead the best, meaning, setting an example,” Jayanne said.

She sets an example every day, taking all the hardest classes, getting straight A’s for four years except for one B+, and impressing every teacher along the way.

“She has a lot of passion, which is what I like about her, but she’s also able to filter that passion in a positive and productive way,” said Patrick Kothe, who taught Jayanne in AP research.

It’s easy to say Jayanne leads by example, but her friends will tell you her impact on them is much deeper than that.

“She just emanates strength and power and she’s been such an amazing impact on my life, I don’t know where I would be without her,” said classmate Zoe Wynne. “She has a contagious atmosphere about her that not only affects me but everyone.”

One of Jayanne’s track and field teammates, Britney St. Vil, said, “She’s the epitome of what you would want to be if you were a student and you were an athlete, she puts the bar where it should be, like we should all be trying to reach that bar.”

Jayanne’s the kid who provides the emotional support for her friends.

“A lot of times it’s just a simple talk, it’s not even homework or, can you help me with this test or assignment it’s more-so, hey, are you OK?” Jayanne explained.

This renaissance woman is also an entrepreneur. She started and runs a company that makes cell phone cases.

“She’s remarkable,” said Patrick Kothe, stating the obvious.

There’s no debating that, and the debate team star has advice for his peers.

“Success is very subjective and I believe that everyone should remember that they should find something that they love and pursue it like wildfire,” Jayanne preached.

Ambition fuels Jayanne’s fire, so that fire is never going out.

<![CDATA[Rocketry Teams at Local High Schools Lift Off]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 19:24:53 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/041118+Rockets+HS.png

The next generation of NASA astronauts and SpaceX engineers might be training right now at two Broward County high schools.

The rocketeers at Plantation High School and the team at Western High in Davie have each blasted off into the Team America Rocketry Challenge, sort of the national finals for rocketry, which will be held in Virginia next month.

“Oh my goodness, this is incredible, they have put so much work, we all have put in so much work,” said Magda Murphy-Bozkurt, the physics teacher who sponsors the rocketry club at Western High.

The TARC is the culmination of an entire school year of preparation.

“We have a full year for the competition but we need almost every single weekend to practice, to get ready, get our qualification flights,” said Dylan Ogrodowski, the president of Western’s rocket club.

The students have to design and program their rockets to fly exactly 800 feet up and then land within 43 seconds, and oh yeah, two eggs inside the rocket must be intact when it returns to earth.

“So we get a problem and our job as engineers is to solve it,” said Alan George of Plantation High’s aerospace club.

“They have to learn how to express themselves, they have to put things together as an engineer, apply what they have learned in class, it’s beautiful,” said Murphy-Bozkurt.

Her counterpart at Plantation, Joe Vallone, says the kids learn so many skills that help them in any endeavor.

“The teamwork that’s going on, interpersonal skills, they’re learning a lot of engineering, a lot of measurement,” said Joe Vallone, the aerospace teacher at Plantation High.

Students told us they’re learning time management, communication skills, but most importantly, they say it’s just a huge rush.

“The coolest thing, of course, is to see our hard work really flying,” said Gabriella Lochan, a member of Plantation High’s team.

The rocketry teams work during school, after school, on weekends, it’s a sky-high commitment to perfect their rockets. Making it to the national finals is a major honor. Of the 800 schools that apply, 100 are selected to compete. Plantation has been there 15 years in a row. Western is on a four-year streak. So failure is not an option, or is it?

“You don’t know what’s gonna happen, anything can happen, you can have an engine failure, the thing could explode,” said Jake Ferreira, a senior at Western High.

The future rocket scientists learn the trial and error process, they learn how to overcome obstacles, and they have liftoff. They definitely have liftoff.

<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Young Men's Preparatory School]]>Mon, 09 Apr 2018 21:13:46 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/208*120/040918+brag.png

The first thing you notice is all the boys are wearing coats and ties. The second thing you notice is that there are no girls.

Of course, you would not expect to find girls at a school called the Young Men’s Preparatory Academy.

It’s a grades 6 through 12 public school in the heart of Wynwood, proving that the uber-hip area isn’t just for artsy tourists, foodies, and graffiti painters. The Miami-Dade School District transformed the old Buena Vista School building, built in the 1920’s, into Young Men’s Prep a few years ago and now they have a public school with a private school feel.

It’s an all-magnet academy which attracts boys from Homestead to Miami Gardens, from Miami Beach to Doral, who want to take advantage of the unique opportunities it offers. YMPA, as it’s called, has less than 300 students. 

“As a matter of fact our graduating senior class has only seven students this year,” said principal Pierre Edouard. “Seven students, not 70, not 700, only seven and they’ve all been accepted to various colleges and universities.”

They emphasize leadership skills at YMPA, to the extent that every student takes a leadership course.

Part of the philosophy here is that the older boys should mentor their younger classmates. In the computer science lab, we saw that philosophy in action. Seniors and juniors were helping the middle school kids with robot design, coding, and designing things on the 3D printer.

The curriculum has an emphasis on making all the students computer literate.

“Our kids since they very beginning start learning how to code and go all the way to AP computer science classes,” said computer science teacher Luis Felipe.

YMPA has award-winning TV production and debate programs and with classes so small, everyone gets hands-on opportunities and individualized attention which isn’t feasible in traditional large schools.

In the honors high school chemistry class, there are only nine students. As you would guess, the teacher loves it. 

“I feel this is the ideal situation because each student gets the one-on-one treatment and I can actually customize my lesson to serve the student, if they forgot something I can catch them up right away rather than stop the whole class,” said chemistry teacher Esther Edouard.

YMPA is proud of its jazz band and drum line, too, and being the only all-boys, college-prep public school in Florida, the students here are definitely marching to the beat of their own drummers. 

<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Miami Senior High School’s Tommy Collins]]>Fri, 06 Apr 2018 19:51:09 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/040618+SWAG+6.png

My colleague, Trina Robinson, asked me what this week’s #SWAGon6 student did to make him a Student Working At Greatness. My reply, and I’m paraphrasing, was, “What does this kid not do?”

Tommy Collins is the first in his family to go off to college. He’s one of Miami Senior High School’s Silver Knight nominees, he’s a leader in the Beta Club, Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society, 5000 Role Models of Excellence, and oh yeah, he’s the co-captain of both the basketball and track and field teams.

“My goal’s just to figure out who I am, as a person, try to grow every day, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Tommy said.

At Miami High, Tommy is a renaissance man. His friends and teachers say he’s charismatic, optimistic, compassionate and super smart. Tommy kills it in the classroom, with his 4.6 GPA, and he earned a full academic scholarship to FSU. He also started his own mentoring program, like a matchmaker for mentors and mentees, recruiting his friends to join the effort.

“I had one girl who was very interested in art, so I found an upperclassman who’s great with drawing, sketching, painting and I paired the two up,” Tommy explained as an example of what he does. “I work with the kids on an individual level, it’s not so much of helping them with school success, which a lot of clubs do, I help the kids find their passions in life.”

Where does he find his own passion and drive? Tommy says part of it comes from living in Overtown, an everyday experience that gives him the motivation to succeed, a work ethic his mentor sees every day.

“His perseverance, the best quality that he has, he does whatever it takes to get ahead, obstacles come in his way and that does not stop him from doing what he does,” said Dr. Erick Hueck, Tommy’s chemistry teacher and the sponsor of the Beta Club.

With his heavy academic load and extracurricular commitments, Tommy realized he needed to utilize every bit of his free time. So he started a trend on the basketball team: studying before games.

“A lot of my friends, they’d be looking at me like what is this guy doing, homework on the bus? Like dude, get ready for the game, but I’m good, I’m good, I got this, I got this!” Tommy said, laughing. “After a while, a few of my teammates started doing the same thing, started bringing books to study, so I felt good, like I impacted them somehow.”

His teachers will tell you that Tommy is the kind of kid who won’t settle for anything less than an “A”, and he says he’s just a hard-working student, but to his friends, he’s an inspiration.

“He’s overcome the struggles and I think a lot of students in our school kind of go through the same thing,” said his classmate, Helen Acevedo. “If he sees you struggling or having a hard time, he’ll go up to you and say hey, what’s up, are you OK, how can I help?”

“He is a role model and to be honest, he’s a role model to me, because I always strive to be like him even though my grades aren’t up to par with his but I do strive to be like him every day,” added Kevin Hernandez, one of Tommy’s closest friends.

Follow Tommy around campus, and everyone seems to know him. He could not be more popular, but he’s most proud of being the kid who everyone turns to for help.

“It makes me feel amazing, I mean, no trophy or award could beat the feeling of knowing that I’m really trying to make a difference in a kid’s life because it’s not really about me it’s about my peers and everyone who’s here in general,” Tommy said.

He’s leaving a legacy of service. The Stingarees are going to miss Tommy Collins.

<![CDATA[Virtual Reality Project Helps Students With Autism]]>Wed, 04 Apr 2018 19:10:12 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/040418+VR+Social.png

When you think of virtual reality, you probably think of video games, the kind in which you wear goggles that immerse you in a fantasy world. Students at South Miami High School have taken that concept and turned it into a way to help kids on the autism spectrum.

“So this software that we’re developing is gonna put students that have autism in certain situations that they may encounter in the real world,” said Rudy Diaz, the multimedia teacher at the school.

They call it Social VR, and it takes users through different scenarios, such as choosing items that are appropriate to bring to school, identifying facial expressions, and shopping at a supermarket. Students in the multimedia program designed it, they coded it, and they’re working to perfect it.

“Anything that you can imagine in your head, you can create it inside the program,” said Luis Sotolongo, a junior at South Miami High. “We’re just a group of kids, we didn’t know we could do this stuff and now we figured it out and we can actually do something to help people.”

They’ve come up with an interesting way to bridge the virtual world with the real world: they test the student’s brain waves to see how the VR system impacts the user.

A device attached to the user’s skull measures activity in certain parts of the brain which correlate to things like focus, stress, and engagement, both before and during the person’s VR session.

“I’ve seen a case where it was like really low levels and then after VR it was like, super high, so that’s like telling us as a research group, it’s helping them,” said Thelma Valladares, a senior at the school.

The students have a built-in test subject in Ryan Cozier, a classmate who is on the autism spectrum. We watched him try the Social VR for the first time.

“I felt like I was in a different dimension and I felt like I was daydreaming at night,” Ryan said. “It was very cool.”

So cool that they’re planning on sharing their system with other schools, with special education programs, hoping to provide a social skills playbook for kids with autism.

<![CDATA[Brag About Westglades Middle School]]>Mon, 12 Feb 2018 19:35:55 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021218+brag+westglades+middle+school.jpg

They’re serious about emphasizing fine arts at Westglades Middle School in Parkland. How do we know? Because hundreds of students are involved in music, theatre, and visual arts programs. The school has a strings orchestra, a band, and a chorus. It’s part of the school’s strategy to create well-rounded students.

"Making sure that we have electives that are something that the students want to be a part of, having extracurricular activities, we have 21 different clubs and activities that kids can be a part of so that draws them into the school, it helps them to develop socially and emotionally," said principal Matt Bianchi.

The music program alone has 260 kids involved, and about half of them start in sixth grade as total beginners. The music director says that’s an important message for parents, that wherever your child goes to school, he or she does not have to play an instrument prior to joining the school band.

"You don’t need to have experience playing an instrument or reading music, I myself joined because I thought it would be fun and it did so much for me socially and emotionally," said Claire Bogdan, Westglades’ band director.

Thanks to a major donation from the school’s PTA, the media center has been upgraded with a massive infusion of technology along with colorful, modern furniture groupings. It’s having the intended effect.

"We've seen a huge increase in student participation in here, they want to be in the room, they want to use the new technology, the new furniture, they want to come in and create," said media director Jenny Stratos.

The library was designed to foster collaboration. For example, students can plug their devices into one multi-screen monitor and they can all share the videos they’re creating simultaneously. Of course, there are charging ports all over the room.

Westglades says it has the only middle school DECA club in the state. The kids in the finance program are learning all about financial literacy and entrepreneurship. They can also earn industry certifications in areas like Microsoft Word, the same certifications adults earn.

Whatever they’re doing at Westglades is working. Yes, the school is blessed with a wealthy PTA and a community which supports it, but it still is quite an achievement to have the highest academic rating of any public middle school in South Florida. Westglades scored more points toward an "A" rating than any other middle school.

That’s a title worthy of celebration.

Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Suzanna Barna]]>Fri, 09 Feb 2018 22:52:04 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/2918+swag.jpg

The natural habitat of the high school student is anywhere other high school students are found. The school hallways, classrooms, the mall, the movies, and at whichever house is hosting a party. So what should we make of these reports from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that dozens of students are willingly spending their free time hanging out with senior citizens?

Suzanna Barna is the impetus behind this effort.

“When you live in an assisted facility like that it’s really hard sometimes to remain positive and optimistic because you know you’re nearing the end of life and it’s hard to cope with, but they get pure joy from us volunteering there and just being around young people, it makes them happy,” Suzanna said.

Visiting her grandmother at the Aston Gardens Senior Living Center made a profound impact on Suzanna. For the past three years, she’s been organizing activities for the old folks there, such as teaching the residents how to use smart phones and computers, and the staff says Suzanna is making a huge impact.

“She brings them joy, she brings them absolute joy, that’s the best way to describe it,” said Melanie Rivera, one of the managers at Aston Gardens.

Suzanna is breaking barriers, showing her peers how rich this experience can be. She’s recruited more than 70 classmates to volunteer at Aston Gardens, including one young man who was so moved, he wrote a poem about his friend to thank her for getting him involved.

“Friends make life more beautiful in many different ways, with smiles of warm affection, with words of love and praise,” said Daniel Tabares, reading his poem.

It’s fairly obvious from looking at pictures of the students interacting with the senior citizens that this volunteer effort is having as much an impact on the kids as it has on the elderly residents.

“I’d like to think so,” Suzanna said. “I’d like to think that they get a sense of reward from doing it and that they really genuinely enjoy spending time with the elderly.”

“It’s been one of the best experiences I think that I’ve had in high school, going there every week and participating and I have her to thank for all of that,” said Rebecca Scheid, a junior who says the effort will continue even after Suzanna graduates.

Suzanna is a senior and an academic star as well. She’s in the top 2% of her class of nearly 800 students. To attain that ranking, she has to have extremely rigorous classes which demand tons of work. So how does she find time for the senior citizens?

“Hard work and motivation to do it, because if I didn’t truly enjoy doing it I don’t see how I could make the time for it but it’s something I’m not willing to give up,” Suzanna said.

Her advisor in the Key Club, English teacher Laurie Edgar, says Suzanna’s not in it to pad her college resume.

“There’s a certain amount of love, of genuineness, of sincerity that she has, a true service heart,” Edgar said.

Suzanna wants to study engineering in college, so her volunteer project won’t necessarily inform her career choices. She says it’s much deeper than that.

“It’s impacted who I am as a person more so, like I will carry what I’ve learned with me forever.” Suzanna explained.

Wisdom, compassion, and an appreciation for her grandmother’s generation.