<![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-usWed, 25 Apr 2018 18:20:33 -0400Wed, 25 Apr 2018 18:20:33 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations<![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.

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<![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.

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<![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.

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<![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.

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<![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.

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<![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.

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<![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. 

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<![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.

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<![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.

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<![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. 

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Coral Park Senior High School]]>Mon, 05 Feb 2018 19:24:52 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/020518+Brag+About+Coral.png

When the principal says her school has something for every kind of student, every interest, she’s not kidding.

Coral Park Senior High School has the AP Capstone program for the highest academic achievers. It has four magnet programs: engineering, architecture, construction, and biomedical sciences.

The school also features a musical group clearly inspired by Blue Man Group. The Glowline is a drumline that plays in the dark with fluorescent sticks and costumes. They make a riot of sound mixed with color, and it symbolizes the eclectic offerings which motivate some students.

“Kids don’t come to school to learn reading and math, although it’s nice if they learn that along the way, but they do come to school for the activities, for the extras, the electives, for the arts, for the sports, for the different programs that we offer here and I think that’s what really hooks the kids into school,” said Alicia Hidalgo, Coral Park’s principal.

From a dance team to a culinary arts program to an AP fine arts class which wins awards every year, the home of the Rams has cast a wide net of choices for its students.

“Students nowadays, they have the opportunity that back in the day we didn’t have, and they’re exposed to very specific areas that prepare them better when they go to college,” said Gloria Alonso, the magnet program coordinator.

The biomedical science program, for example, just started this year. It gives students a solid background for studying health sciences in college.

The engineering program students were showing off their robots. They built machines that can shoot and dribble basketballs and pitch a baseball.

“We actually do no robotics in the classroom, we just teach the theories, everything that it takes to make a robot, coding, the physics behind it, the drafting, designing,” explained Charlie Delahoz, the engineering director.

The kids actually build their robots in the Ram Tech Club, sometimes with guidance from former Rams.

“Just like in sports, you know how the alumni come back and mentor the young kids, that’s exactly what’s happening,” Delahoz said.

Coral Park also takes pride in its programs for special education students and an immersion program for recent immigrant kids who don’t speak English fluently. They really do reach everyone at this school tucked into a neighborhood in Westchester.

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<![CDATA[SWAG On 6: Hialeah High's Michael Hernandez]]>Fri, 02 Feb 2018 19:18:44 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/020218+michael+hernandez.jpg

Michael Hernandez had all the cards stacked against him. Abused, neglected, feeling alone, he remade himself into a leader at Hialeah Senior High School after a nightmare childhood in foster care.

"For many nights I cried myself to sleep, I doubted myself a lot, I would look into the world and feel completely alone but my main drive was, where do I want to see myself?" Michael said.

The answer was always, at the top. Michael became the drum major of the Marching Thoroughbreds Band and led them to consecutive state titles, and he’s in the top 3 percent of his graduating class.

"Nothing’s ever given to you in this world for free, you have to work for it, so that’s my main philosophy so if I want that 'A' on that test I have to stay up late and I have to study," Michael said.

The senior knows where he’s going after graduation. Michael earned a full Posse scholarship to Syracuse University, and that achievement is a symbol of how far he’s come, and how much adversity he’s overcome.

"I went through physical, emotional, and sexual abuse but throughout the years, education was my main drive," Michael said. "My sexuality was a huge thing, I questioned a lot, am I gay because of what I went through or what I’ve experienced, and it really took a toll on me."

Michael credits his teachers with bringing him out of his shell.

"Michael was always positive, he was always optimistic, and he always tried to find a solution to his problems instead of just dwelling on the issues," said Griselis Reyes-Gil, who taught Michael in the AP Capstone program. "I think that sort of emotional maturity in someone his age is extremely rare."

Michael says he blossomed into a leader in high school, found the courage to accept himself and come out as gay to his friends, and now they say he’s an inspiration.

"You know it helps me realize that there’s a lot more stuff that people are going through, it inspired me to actually try to do better in the classes that I was in," said classmate Dashawn Howard.

Another close friend, fellow senior Maidelys Gonzalez, said, "He has inspired me that today is just a moment and I have to make the best of it to have a better tomorrow, and he’s a perfect example of that type of person."

Despite all the adversity he’s been through, or maybe because he’s seen so much hardship, Michael is the kid his friends turn to for support.

"He’s always got your back no matter what you’re going through, no matter what," said classmate Daniela Ceballos.

Michael’s goal now is to be a positive example for kids who feel they’ve been betrayed by their own families. In other words, kids like himself.

"Know that there are a lot of people who are in your shoes, going through the same thing, and know that you can do something about it, and that you’re worthy," Michael said.

It's tempting to say Michael has already proven his worth, but he’ll tell you he’s just getting starting.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Meet The Finalists for Teacher of the Year in Broward]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 19:21:25 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/013118+broward+teacher+of+the+year.jpg

Choosing a teacher to honor as the best of the year seems like an impossible task in the nation’s sixth-largest public school district, but the nominees have been whittled down to five.

Five extraordinary teachers were nominated by their peers, with the ultimate winners selected by a Broward County Public Schools committee. Here are their stories:

Stacey Brown is a natural. As a young girl she was the kid who wanted to grow up to be a teacher, and says her fourth graders at Pompano Beach Elementary School keep her enthused about her chosen profession.

"They are definitely my influence for getting up in the morning and my inspiration for coming to work every single day and I absolutely adore the lights in their face when they’re making progress and learning, and it’s just a joy," Brown said.

Frank Pizzo knows a thing or two about teaching financial literacy. His wife is a teacher, and after volunteering in her classroom, he caught the bug. Pizzo left the business world to teach at Miami Northwestern Senior High, and these days, it’s the kids at Deerfield Beach High School who get the benefit of his experience.

"The kids really need your help, and just by giving them something a little extra every day on an individual basis really makes a difference in their lives and I always like to say i’m only there for an hour, but that hour really has a big impact,” Pizzo said.

When Coral Cove Elementary jumped from a "C" grade to an "A" this year, the principal gave much of the credit to Diana Escobar, the school’s literacy specialist. It’s Escobar’s job to roam from class to class, working with kids on reading skills, and tracking their individual progress with data. Escobar went from engineering to teaching, and brings that flexibility to class.

"Every day is a new day, I can never say that today I have this lesson plan drafted, I have this day planned out because every day they surprise me and I adapt my schedule to their needs,” Escobar said.

Helen Kassim teaches first graders at Sunland Park Academy. Kassim says it’s incredible to be nominated for Teacher of the Year, especially considering that she would’ve failed eighth grade if not for a teacher who took her under his wing and changed her life.

"And just seeing how one person can have such a major impact on someone else’s future,” Kassim said, “Makes me want to do the same for someone else so that’s why I teach."

Monarch High School English teacher Tammy Freeman has a similar background. She grew up in poverty and says no one believed in her except for her teachers at school.

"My past is the past of hundreds of thousands of children who are in the school system who may not have anyone but their teachers so I want to impact my students, and not just my students but all students the same way that I was impacted when I was growing up,” Freeman said.

The winning teacher will be announced Thursday night. Besides bragging rights, the big prize is a new car.

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: J.P. Taravella High School]]>Mon, 29 Jan 2018 20:26:03 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/012918+Brag+About+School.png

When you think of a public high school, you probably picture a place like J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs. The Home of the Trojans has teams in every sport, a big marching band, and all the AP and dual enrollment classes to satisfy the college-bound kids.

It also has a lot more.

For example, Taravella’s Academy of Finance earned the “distinguished” label, one of only 42 schools in the nation to earn that designation out of 675 which offer the National Academy of Finance curriculum.

“The kids get experiences that illuminate their path, especially in this program, our business ownership and virtual enterprise program, they come in here as students and they leave as business professionals,” said Laurie Acosta, the lead finance teacher.

The principal says he’s most proud that Taravella High is a comprehensive institution.

“We offer the full high school experience here for kids, it’s not just about books, it’s about books, academics and the extra things that we want to hook kids with, and it’s so important these days to hook kids into school,” said Jason Nault, Taravella’s principal.

Speaking of unique hooks to keep kids interested in school, Taravella has its own police academy. It’s not just a few classes in law enforcement, it’s a complete academy experience, overseen by the Coral Springs Police Department.

More than a hundred students are enrolled in the four-year program. They learn police tactics and ethics from real officers, and go through actual police department training exercises. Obviously, the academy is great for kids interested in law enforcement careers, but it’s also good preparation for future lawyers or military officers as well.

And now for something completely different, to borrow a phrase from Monty Python: the school’s theatre program has a long history of staging first-class shows and providing a foundation for talented performers. One of its alumni, Etai Benson, is currently starring on Broadway in the critically-acclaimed hit musical, “The Band’s Visit.”

If you visit the school, you might see parents dropping off toddlers. No, they’re not precocious freshmen. They’re part of Taravella’s Early Childhood Education Academy, which teaches high school students how to teach preschoolers. It’s as hands-on as you can get.

“When they’re in here they implement what they learn in the classroom, they’re preparing lesson plans, they’re executing a lesson plan, they’re teaching the children good hygiene, good nutrition, all of those kinds of things,” explained Marilou Raham, the program’s director.

So there are two generations benefiting from one program, par for the course at Taravella High School.

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<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Sheetal Bahadursingh]]>Fri, 26 Jan 2018 21:32:50 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/215*120/12618+swag+student.jpg

Most high school kids don’t think about not being able to see over library shelves, but it’s just part of everyday life for Sheetal Bahadursingh, just like the stares and teasing. It’s all part of the territory for people with achondroplasia, commonly called dwarfism.

“I used to care about when I was young but now I’m like, it doesn’t matter, just let them think what they want to think,” Sheetal said. “It does hurt a little, but I’ve gotten used to it over the years.”

Underestimate Sheetal at your own peril. This sophomore at Cooper City High School is the personification of the saying, “good things come in small packages.”

“They shouldn’t judge others based on the size, you get to know them by their personality and who they are,” Sheetal said. “I’m just like all of you guys, I can do the same things.”

Her friends and classmates say Sheetal is the kid who’s always smiling, always making them feel better. Her feet may not reach the floor, but she’s no pushover.

“She’s sassy, I love it, she’s like very sassy and savage, she doesn’t take anything from nobody and that’s what I really like about her,” said Marylin Yanes Perez, a friend since middle school.

“Hish school is just, half of it is schoolwork, the other half is drama, if Sheetal can get through it, then pretty much anyone can,” chimed in Diego Davila, one of Sheetal’s classmates.

Getting through the academic of high school is hard enough. Imagine having to do it while missing months at a time because of various surgeries. Sheetal’s had 13 operations for severe health issues.

Last year, it was radical craniofacial surgery which totally remade her appearance. Before that, it was operations on her deformed spine, legs, and more. In spite of all of that, Sheetal still earns all “A’s” and “B’s”, and finds time for three service clubs, including working with other disabled kids in Best Buddies. Her teachers say Sheetal inspires everyone with her drive and positivity.

“I mean, is she gonna be a basketball player? No, but could she be a doctor if she wanted to, could she be an attorney, absolutely, the sky’s the limit for someone like Sheetal,” said Fallan Patterson, one of Sheetal’s teachers.

Sheetal wants to eventually go into health care, possibly as a doctor, with, she says, one singular goal for her life:

“To make a difference in the world somehow,” Sheetal said.

She’s already making a difference, and Sheetal says she’ll never stop moving forward.

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<![CDATA[Miami-Dade County Set to Announce Teacher of The Year]]>Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:19:02 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/012518+miami+dade+teacher+of+the+year.PNG

It’s always satisfying to be recognized by peers for outstanding performance, no matter what profession it happens to be. Thursday night, Miami-Dade Public Schools will announce its Teacher of the Year. These are the nominees:

Aaron Taylor teaches fourth grade at Henry Reeves Elementary School. He grew up in the same Liberty City area, and says he’s humbled to be nominated for the award. Taylor says his students are the reason for his success and he says they give him motivation every day.

“The children, the passion that the kids have, just to see them grow, to see them start so young and grow up and see how they evolve and become these wonderful people the community and society needs,” Taylor said.

Molly Winters-Diallo teaches social studies at Alonzo and Tracey Mourning Senior High School. Both of her parents were teachers, so she’s a natural.

“There is not another career, I think, that I would find more fulfilling than teaching, because I feel like you have the ability to make an impact in your students’ lives each day,” Winters-Diallo said.

Judy Rodriguez left a better-paying job in pharmaceuticals 20 years ago and has never looked back. She says she feels a special calling to work at the COPE School, which is an alternative education center.

“All of my students are either pregnant teens or teen moms, so for me, it’s not just about educating them, it’s about putting them in a better position to care for their children, so I feel as if I’m impacting two generations simultaneously,” Rodriguez explained.

Katina Perry-Birts made the improbable leap from school security guard to teacher. She says volunteering in a classroom inspired her to go back to college and make the career change. Now she feels inspired every day by her fourth grade students at Florida City Elementary School.

“Every day, every day there’s a challenge, it’s not saying every day’s easy, but seeing that light bulb come on with them is very rewarding,” Perry-Birts said.

The winning teacher will be able to drive home from Thursday night’s ceremony in a brand-new car.

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High]]>Mon, 22 Jan 2018 19:26:14 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/012218+Brag+School.png

It opened its doors in 1971, and in the decades since, Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High School has produced scores of professionals in our community. In fact, many of them are drawn back to their alma mater to teach. The school has 15 alumni on the faculty now.

“It tells me that they leave this place, that they leave but they want to come back, and you want to give back to the students who are here now, which makes it pretty amazing,” said principal Lisa Garcia.

The Trojan marching band makes up the biggest musical slice of the pie at HML, but the school recently added what is perhaps a one-of-a-kind activity, a salsa club. Not the stuff that goes well with chips, a club in which students learn to salsa dance. It’s part of the school’s effort to create a niche for every student.

“Your know Hialeah Miami Lakes is a traditional high school, so that means you get to experience all of the electives, all of the programs, the athletics, the clubs, the activities as well as getting a top-notch education,” Garcia said.

HML has a magnet program in Digital Media Technology and Entrepreneurship, in which students have opportunities ranging from flying drones to programming robots.

“For example, graphic design, web development, app development, entrepreneurship, they get into building out robots,” said Ray Pariss, a teacher in the program. “And one of the cool things, the skill set the kids learn is how to take this concept and apply it to the real world.”

Students in the program, for instance, designed an app to encourage classmates to report crimes.

HML has three magnet programs, including the iPrep college prep course, and a Legal Studies program. We watched the students conducting a mock trial, but they also compete in Constitutional knowledge contests and also in a program called Project Citizen in which they have to solve local societal problems.

“The more an issue’s close to you, the more passionate you are about it, and they learn that you don’t have to be an adult before you solve an issue, we all have problems around us and who are we waiting for? We have to be our own heroes,” said teacher Rukayat Adebisi, explaining the life lessons kids in that program learn.

Hialeah Miami Lakes will soon be getting a facelift, thanks to bond money which will pay for physical improvements. They’ve already got the academic part on the right track. They have a 93 percent graduation rate, one of the highest in Miami-Dade County.

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<![CDATA[Student Working at Greatness: Laudz Pierre]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 20:09:29 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011918+Swag+on+6.png

She’s a walking type-A personality. Whatever the subject, whatever the class, you can bet Laudz Pierre is earning an “A."

“Why should I stay back and be ordinary when I can be exceptional, I can do everything,” Laudz said.

Laudz is a senior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. Her teacher in the magnet medical program says Laudz is the type of kid who isn’t satisfied getting a 95 on an assignment. She’s always shooting for perfection.

“You know there are bright students and there are students who have the grit to get what they want and that is what success is, to really make sure that you utilize every opportunity and you do what it takes to succeed and that is Laudz,” said Sonia Warren-Salmon, who teaches nursing.

What drives Laudz? She survived the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Many of her friends did not.

“I could’ve been one of those kids, like I lost friends from school that we was close, we planned to grow up together and then in a quick second they was no longer alive,” Laudz said.

She came to the United States six years ago with a fierce determination to learn English and to succeed in school.

“This, being here, is like the opportunity probably god wanted me to have, that’s why he spared me from the earthquake,” Lauds said, explaining a thought she says is always in her head.

She will graduate high school with an LPN certificate, but Laudz says she wants to go on to medical school and become a physician. Obviously brilliant and determined, she’s most proud of the fact that her peers consider her to be a role model.

“What better friend to have than a friend that pushes you and influences you in the right way?” said classmate Naomi Desir.

Another classmate told us Laudz doesn’t even realize how many students she’s inspiring on a daily basis.

“When you look at her past experiences and what she went through and how she overcame them it makes you realize if she can do it why can’t I do it?” said classmate Tamara Aristide.

Laudz already has a medical specialty in mind, neurosurgery, because a traumatic brain injury killed her cousin in the earthquake. Motivation infuses everything Laudz does.

“There’s nothing that can stop me here, like, there’s nothing at all, the only person that can stop me is myself, and it’s like, that drives me,” Laudz said.

This is a young woman fueled by the searing experiences of her childhood. She’s got roads to drive, all the way to medical school and beyond.

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<![CDATA[Intense Computer Programming Boot Camp Trains Students]]>Wed, 17 Jan 2018 19:26:14 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121718+ironhack.jpg

Visit a class at Ironhack Miami and you’ll notice there’s no drill instructor screaming at students. No one is demanding that pushups be done, no one is standing at attention, but this is definitely boot camp. It’s computer programming boot camp, designed for career changers.

“Software development really appeals to people, the tech industry is really booming and so that really appeals to a lot of people so how can they get into that? One was is web development and UXTY design,” said Nizar Khalife, an instructor of web development at Ironhack.

Ironhack Miami is one of several companies in South Florida riding the tech industry wave, training people for jobs as web designers or web builders. The private school charges $10,000 for an intensive 10-week course, which includes job placement services. Sounds expensive, but Uber can help get you there in more ways than one. Customers and drivers of the ride-sharing company can apply for an Uber scholarship.

“South Florida is really a growing tech ecosystem and there’s a lot of interest from folks that are in other careers now looking to grow their tech skills,” said Rachel Johnson of Uber. “There are some really amazing success stories from last year.”

One of those success stories is Oleh Kolinko, an immigrant from Ukraine. He won an Uber scholarship and used it to redirect his career at Ironhack.

“So right now I’m working as a web application developer-slash-software engineer at the company Jetsmarter,” Kolinko said. “I think it’s a totally life-changing experience.”

Last year, Uber awarded $100,000 in scholarships to Ironhack Miami, and the response was so overwhelming, the company doubled it to $200,000 this year. Uber says it’s a way to give back to the community and to honor its own tech startup heritage.

“We hope that through this opportunity drivers and riders will have the chance for professional development and really to change their careers to do work they really love,” Johnson said.

Kolinko went from stringing lines for the cable company to writing code for a promising startup, and he has advice for anyone on the fence about daring to change careers.

“I would tell ‘em just do it, just try it, be bold, that’s what it takes, if you don’t take a risk, you don’t drink champagne!” Kolinko said. “I think any human being can learn any skill, you just have to dedicate yourself." 

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<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Plantation High's Duane 'The Role Model' Johnson]]>Fri, 12 Jan 2018 20:17:24 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011218+Swag+Ari.png

He’s got a name like a movie star, and he’s already a star at Plantation High School. Duane Johnson’s favorite class is aerospace engineering, but he’s right at home in AP calculus or on the football field. He’s played for the Colonels for four years, and if there’s a student government meeting, you’ll find Duane there, too.

This Duane Johnson is the Rock of Plantation High. He excels at everything.

“I’m ambitious, I want to adventure, I want to achieve many goals, and I just feel as if, if it’s reachable, why not?” Duane said.

Calling Duane a leader is an understatement. His friends call him the Role Model.

“That’s someone I would love to be like, he’s a great student, he gets all his work done, has the grades, has everything,” said Otis Ragin, one of Duane’s football teammates.

“He's a go-getter,” said classmate Adam Sachs. “He’s willing to do anything and just get the job done, he’s always looking forward and willing to help other people.”

To fully appreciate the status Duane has achieved, it’s imperative to know the obstacles he’s overcome to arrive at this point.

“To be honest, I believe that whatever I set my mind to now I can achieve it, because if that was my bottom, there’s nothing I can’t do,” Duane explained.

Duane’s “bottom” was being homeless for four years, with custody of him and his sister bouncing from his mother, who had severe financial problems, to a father Duane says was abusive.

“I played football, so I had an escape route to keep me away from my dad,” Duane said.

The problems outside of school motivated this young man to work as hard as possible in school.

“And it really made me a man, it molded me into the person I am today, because it made me want to be more successful, it made me want to look past everything that I’ve been through and you know I just thank god that I went through that early because it really made me a better person,” said Duane.

Duane knows his experience can benefit others, so he joined a police-sponsored mentoring group to help kids beyond the classroom.

“I mentor people in situations almost the same as mine so it’s just me reaching out to them, telling them my story, giving them hope, because a lot of people lose hope easily, and I’m like, you gotta be a fighter in this world,” Duane said.

His fighting spirit and work ethic have already earned Duane thousands of dollars in college scholarship money.

“He’s going places, I can’t wait to catch up with him in 10 years and see what he becomes,” said Joe Vallone, Duane’s aerospace engineering teacher.

A decade from now? Duane hopes he’ll be working for NASA by then. Looks like he’s already got lift-off.

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<![CDATA[Alumni Return to Hialeah High for Special Forum]]>Wed, 20 Dec 2017 19:46:49 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/122017+college+forum.jpg

High schools in which most of the students are from disadvantaged homes, with many still learning English, are not supposed to produce Ivy Leaguers every year. By that measure, Hialeah Senior High has been defying expectations for a long time.

Evidence for that proposition was on the stage in the school’s auditorium Wednesday morning. About 30 alumni, including current college students and recent college graduates, came back to give back to their school. They were part of the annual College Forum. The alumni represented some of the nation’s finest universities, including Harvard, Brown, Duke, Northwestern, UCLA, USC, and UF and FSU. There was also an alumnus who took a different course, through aviation college, and now flies B-52 bombers in the Air Force.

The Forum is all about giving advice, a chance for the high school kids to hear what college is really like from students who they can trust.

“Because we want to make sure that once they get there, they stay there, that they’re successful, they’re graduating from college,” said principal Heriberto Sanchez, explaining the reason for College Forum.

Everyone on the stage had roots in common, but they also have one other shared commonality, and that’s a sense of gratitude for Hialeah High’s college advisor, who was at the school for 16 years. Alina Grandal retired this year, and was greeted with a standing ovation when she addressed the students participating in the Forum.

“I am so happy and so proud of each of you and the fact that you came back time after time to give back to your school,” Grandal said, fighting back tears.

Grandal has been instrumental in shepherding students to the next level of education, whether it’s Miami-Dade College or Stanford, MIT, Columbia, and Penn. There are Hialeah High Thoroughbreds at all of those institutions.

“Ms. Grandal has helped all of us immensely with the college application process, without her, truly, we would be super clueless,” said Jessie Rodriguez, who is a sophomore at Harvard.

“It gives me a feeling of satisfaction,” Grandal said, explaining what it’s like to see the returning alumni every year. “I know they didn’t go there because of me, sometimes they tell me I did it because of you, and I tell them no, I was just support.”

Now Grandal is passing the baton to her daughter, who is moving from math teacher to college advisor, pledging to bring the same passion and dedication to the job that her mother brought to work every day.

“I definitely want to make sure that all these kids get into the best schools that they can and continue her legacy,” said Christina Grandal Orfely.

She’s got huge shoes to fill, but the example has been set. Now students know that no matter how much poverty they face at home, if they work hard enough, they can follow the path blazed by the kids who came before them.

“We must have done something right,” Grandal said. 

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Parkway Middle School of the Arts]]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 20:06:26 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121817+Brag+Parkway.png

It’s always fun to expose a hidden gem, like that great neighborhood restaurant or the boutique your friends don’t know about. Consider putting Parkway Middle School of the Arts in that category.

“It’s a hidden treasure,” said the school’s principal, Bradford Mattair, in full agreement with our assessment.

The school sits in the heart of Broward County, but it’s in a quiet residential neighborhood, a bit off the beaten path. The performing arts community, however, knows all about Parkway Middle. It’s got the only middle school performing arts magnet in the county, and it’s been attracting talented kids for three decades.

“Thirty years of turning out stars, like Black Violin, like Jason Derulo, people who went here to Parkway and are now pursuing their dreams as artists,” said the school’s artistic director, Michelle Terl.

These days, Parkway’s choir is so stellar, they’re the only middle school choir in Florida to be invited to perform at Lincoln Center in New York. The event is in March, and is part of Manhattan Concert Productions.

Meanwhile, the school’s drama troupe won the Florida State Jr. Thespian Festival’s Mainstage contest, and will soon perform “Guys and Dolls” in an international theatre festival in Orlando. It’s another feather in the Parkway’s artsy cap.

“These kids are dreamers and they’re putting their dreams in front of them and projecting their dreams out to an audience and the audience has the opportunity to see these children, they’re striving to be the best at whatever they do,” Mattair said.

If they’re striving to be the best computer coder, they’re in the right place, too. In addition to performing arts, Parkway is a STEM magnet school. It includes classes in website design, robotics, drone flight, and more.

Many of the students are also in the school’s unique Center for Intellectually Talented Youth. The CITY program keeps gifted students together from third grade through eighth, doing extra enrichment.

“Socratic seminars, speech and debate, chess,” said Mattair, listing some of the enrichment activities. “Mathematics competitions, drone competitions, engineering, robotic competitions.”

The STEM magnet kids can take aeronautics, in which they learn to fly planes on actual flight simulators.

All of these activities and classes build up “the whole child,” as Mattair says, and Terl agrees.

“It’s really quite amazing to watch these young kids, they come to us, they’re 10 years old when they sign up and by the time they leave they’re 14, and they have confidence, and they’re going out there to pursue their dreams,” Terl said.

One of those dreams is to sing in that New York City event, but to get there, the kids need to raise $85,000. You can help by going to www.parkwayplayers.com, which has a link to their GoFundMe page.ter

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<![CDATA[Student Working at Greatness: Natalie Lamas]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 20:22:35 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121517+Swag+Pic.png

Some kids sit in the front row because they want to. Others do it because they have to.

“When they had the kindergarten hearing test I thought I was doing the test wrong because everybody’s hands were going up and I just didn’t hear anything,” Natalie Lamas recalled.

They diagnosed Natalie with severe hearing loss back then, but look at her now: she’s graduating in the top five percent of her senior class at Hialeah gardens high school, she has straight “A’s” in the demanding Cambridge program, she’s a silver knight nominee, she’s going to FIU next year on scholarship, and she’s a black belt in Taekwondo.

“Life is like, 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you make of it,” Natalie said.

Natalie has spent her entire academic career struggling to hear the teacher, to hear her classmates, to hear, period, but her friends say she never uses the disability as an excuse or as a crutch.

“I was always like, I don’t understand why she’s always asking me what the teacher’s saying, I just thought that maybe she wasn’t paying attention, until one day she actually told me I’m hearing impaired and I honestly didn’t notice, she doesn’t make it known, she’s not like 'hi, I’m hearing impaired, pay attention to me,'” said Natalie's classmate, Amanda Rosario.

That’s not Natalie's style. She puts her head down and gets to work.

“You have to work harder, but I’m a person who, if I have to work harder for my goals, I don’t mind doing it,” Natalie said.

“She had goals and she was gonna do whatever she needed to do to reach those goals,” said guidance counselor Yvette Pino.

So Natalie turned to the latest, high-tech hearing aids for help. She says since she got them last summer, her world has changed dramatically. For the first time in her life, she heard a bird chirp, and now, she doesn’t have to struggle as much to understand her teachers. Natalie feels new opportunities have opened up for her.

“If you really want it, you can go get it, so even though the hearing aids are helping me, they’re not what’s getting me there,” Natalie said.

What’s getting her there is her drive to succeed and help others. She’s raised $5,000 for a charity that provides kids with hearing aids in third world countries, and Natalie also counsels students like herself.

“like I was never comfortable with getting help because I always thought it was an embarrassment, and a lot of people feel that way, but people need to understand that resources are there for a reason,” Natalie said.

That message will be heard – loud and clear.

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<![CDATA[FIU Suspends All Greek Life Activities Starting in January]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:43:53 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032316+fiu+fostering.jpg

Florida International University announced Friday afternoon that they have suspended all Greek activities.

According to a statement released by Mark Rosenberg, FIU's president, they have decided to suspend all Greek activities for at least one month starting January 1, 2018.

In a statement, the university cites “growing concerns about the state of fraternity and sorority life at FIU as well as around the nation,” for suspending the activities.

The university will announce more details of the suspension to the members of Greek councils, chapter members, advisors and interested alumni.

All activities are suspended, with the exception of chapter and council meetings and educational workshops that are held with the purpose of improving Greek life at FIU and discussing next steps, the university said.

“I appreciate the work done thus far by Greek leaders who understand that the current state is not acceptable,” said Rosenberg.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Pinecrest Elementary Music Teacher Develops Talented Kids]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 00:23:56 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121317+Ari+Kids+Scool.png

Nothing is more rewarding for teachers than seeing their students grow up to be successful adults. For elementary school teachers, it’s a long wait to see the seeds they plant bear fruit.

Cynthia Kohanek is seeing her efforts pay off.

Kohanek is in her 20th year leading the music program at Pine. Five years ago, The Village of Pinecrest declared December 13th to be Cynthia Kohanek Day. So the fifth-graders singing in the chorus may not realize it, but they’re following a path to choral excellence blazed over two decades.

“I’m most proud of the students that have come through this program, the humans they have become, the citizens that they have become,” Kohanek said.

“Ms. Kohanek is just one of those exceptional teachers, above and beyond, the work ethic, the passion,” marveled Kohanek’s boss, principal Lynn Zaldua. “A school without the arts and music? It’s just a building with academics and books, this adds life.”

Kohanek’s passion and dedication rubs off on her students.

“There’s nothing like a student or students working so hard, months of rehearsals, practice, and then for them to feel the gratitude and rewards of their accomplishments,” Kohanek said, adding that the experience gives the kids confidence and raises their self-esteem.

Kohanek’s alumni come back all the time. We watched professional singer and actress Carolina Pozo sing with the kids. Pozo told us the lessons she learned here 18 years ago, in fifth grade, still resonate every day.

“If I work hard, I can do this, and that idea has never left me, it’s always kept that drive going and it always reminded me that passion can get you very far in whatever work you do,” Pozo said.

Kohanek’s former students at Pinecrest Elementary include Ashley Levin, who was a contestant on The Voice, and pop star Camila Carbello, who was a member of the group Fifth Harmony and has had a couple of hit solo songs.

So what’s the takeaway for her former students, who learned teamwork and discipline at an early age?

“This has led to many alumni pursuing professional performing careers, but more importantly is my hope that all of my students leave my program with a sense of understanding the value of the arts,” Kohanek said.

Consider that mission accomplished.

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Coral Way K-8]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 19:18:08 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121117+Coral+Brag.png

It was considered experimental in 1963 when the school, which is now Coral Way K-8 Center, became the nation’s first dual-language immersion public school. Fifty-four years later, it’s a confirmed success, with generations of kids having graduated, fluent in Spanish and English.

“Well, we know that language acquisition is best at an early age. That’s why we start them actually in Pre-K. In our Pre-K, we have Spanish instruction,” said the principal, Barbara Martin.

The school’s chorus performs songs in both languages, and that’s the just the start.

“All of our classes include bilingual education, whether they go to art, whether they’re in music, whether they’re in band,” said lead teacher Susana Cordova Martin.

We saw a 6th-grade math class being taught in Spanish, and every student understood the lesson. Likewise, a third-grade science class was being taught in English. The students here think nothing of switching from one language to the other.

“Our students leave our school fully bilingual and bi-literate, meaning they can read, write, and communicate in Spanish,” Cordova Martin said.

The value of having that skill in this increasingly global, increasingly connected society is incalculable.

The school also offers the international studies program, which entails staying after school for an hour, four days a week, as part of a curriculum approved by the Spanish government.

“So it’s not only an academic opportunity, it’s also an enrichment opportunity because students are exposed to Spanish culture,” principal Martin said.

Eighth-graders can even take AP Spanish, for which they receive college credit, in middle school. So from science to math to social studies to the arts, we can say: “elogia a tu escuela” – that’s "brag about your school" in Spanish.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[SWAG On 6: South Broward High's Stephanie Posadas]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:19:35 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/120817+stephanie+posadas.jpg

Hour of Code week just ended in Broward County Public Schools. It’s a nationwide effort to emphasize the importance of teaching computer programming to kids of all ages, at all levels. Some students don’t need to be persuaded, they’re already cyber warriors.

Stephanie Posadas, a junior at South Broward High School, would be a general in the student coding army.

Stephanie tutors her friends as well as classmates she barely knows, bringing her passion for coding to everyone around her.

“I’m trying to help people because I know computers are the future,” Stephanie said.

Sometimes, she acts as a second teacher in Justin Feller’s AP Computer Science class.

“Quite frankly, I wish all my students were like Stephanie with one exception: possibly a little louder,” Feller said.

Stephanie is soft-spoken, but her words pack a punch of knowledge. She’s already designed and produced several apps, and she’s just getting started.

“By the end of this year she will have exhausted all of the computer science classes that we offer here, she will have led a number of Hour of Code events, she will have started a computer science club at a school that’s quite honestly been thirsting for one for about five years now and all the while she will tell you she’s not the best and everyone around her is,” Feller said, emphasizing his star pupil’s humble nature.

Stephanie’s next project, already in the works and set to debut in January, is to create the computer coding club her teacher spoke of. It has a name, Project DEV, which stands for Developing Electronic Visions, and it will allow her to take what she does individually, tutoring classmates, and transfer it to a bigger scale.

“Next year, I will be the president of the club, so I plan on leaving this onto someone, onto someone that I know will do a good job with it,” Stephanie said.

So Project DEV will be Stephanie’s legacy at South Broward High. She also is creating personal legacies with her friends.

“I think she's just a very nice person and she likes helping people,” said Miftahul Jannat, one of Stephanie’s closest friends.

Senior Miles Pophal has worked with Stephanie on Hour of Code productions and workshops, and could not be more impressed.

“She's gonna do great things, she's going places,” Miles said.

“I think it takes a strong person to do all that stuff, to create a club, then help a bunch of people, and then still do school, and still take their tests and still be on top of it,” said Rayan Aliche, a classmate who benefits from Stephanie’s tutoring help.

She’s right, it’s a heavy load, but Stephanie has figured out a way to do all of it while still earning impressive grades. You could say she’s cracked the code.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[FIU Welcomes Over 200 Students from Hurricane-Ravaged PR]]>Sat, 30 Dec 2017 17:24:42 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/216*120/12617+fiu.jpg

It’s been months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. It destroyed homes and forced people to leave everything they know.

But on Wednesday, college students from the island are now one step closer to normalcy, as they prepare to start school in South Florida.

Grecia Cruz and over 200 other students from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are getting a chance to continue their college education through FIU.

“It’s really big and it’s really clean. It’s like a happy environment,” said Cruz.

“We invited them here for a semester to take classes while their universities are recovering from Hurricane Maria,” said Jody Glassman, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions for FIU.

Wednesday’s orientation is a part of FIU’s ongoing effort to support students affected by the devastating hurricane season. The university is able to fund the program for the students through grant money. They were also able to provide housing for some students.

“We want to make sure that they have their opportunity to continue their education,” said Glassman. “We are not going to leave them behind.”

For Cruz and her mother, the opportunity to continue her education means a lot and will play a major role in her future.

“I hope that she could make it here at FIU. We are grateful for the university to receive visitors from Puerto Rico,” said Dr. Daisy Goytia, Cruz’s mother.

“There are so many opportunities, so many experiences that I really want to take advantage of,” said Cruz.

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<![CDATA[Broward School Board Approves Earlier Start Date in 2018]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 19:55:27 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/030717+broward+school+board.jpg

A proposal to move up the start date for the 2018-19 school year in Broward County was approved by the school board on Tuesday afternoon. 

School board members voted 7-2 on the calendar for next school year, which would include starting the school year on Wednesday, August 15th. The current school year started on Monday, August 21st to continue the long standing tradition of starting on that day of the week.

The new schedule would allow for semester exams to be completed before winter break, while Thanksgiving break would take place from November 21st – 23rd and Spring Break would be from March 25-29, 2019. The last day of school would be scheduled for June 4th.

Students also would not have class scheduled during Election Day, on November 6th.

Teachers will also be getting a raise as part of a tentative contract agreement announced by superintendent Robert Runcie.

"These are bittersweet moments, we do the absolute best we can, to show our respect and appreciation for our employees but we also recognize that we continue to face funding challenges from the state of Florida," Runcie said.

Raises will range from 2.6 percent to 3.51 percent. The raise for teachers with about 30 years of service will be a one time $1,000 bonus.

Teacher salaries in Broward range from about $41,000 to $75,000.



Photo Credit: Arly Alfaro/Telemundo 51]]>
<![CDATA[Brag About Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:22:44 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/120417+Brag+School.png

Volumes could be written about the superlatives associated with Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Let's start with the marching band, the reigning state champions. The kids have earned the right to toot their own horns, and they've learned even more in the process.

"A good work ethic and what it takes to achieve the highest level of excellence in everything that they do, that's one of the biggest things they take away," said band director Alex Kaminsky.

Within the past 18 months, the Eagles have also won state titles in tennis and baseball. Douglas has been a baseball power since the days when the Chicago Cubs' World Series hero, Anthony Rizzo, was a standout player at the Parkland school. It is Broward's second largest, with 3,300 students.

I asked the principal if it's hard for a student to stand out in such a large crowd.

"Really not," said Ty Thompson, who has been the principal here for nine years. "We have so many different things going on here at Stoneman Douglas, over 90 clubs and organizations. Everyone can kinda get their niche and get involved in something."

One of those niches coveted by many students is Mr. Jeter's astronomy class. It's an elective open only to seniors, a class in which they go on sky gazing field trips to the Everglades at night, with high-power telescopes.

Another offering, among many, is the DECA program, the nation's fifth-largest. The teacher is also a CPA, who emphasizes all the soft skills needed to succeed.

"Our students walk out of our program and they have a LinkedIn account, they know how to interview, they know how to present themselves, and they're all sills, no matter where they go, they can take those skills elsewhere," said Sharon Cutler, the leader of the DECA program.

At a school named for an environmental activist, you'd expect to find some kind of environmental project and there is one. Teachers and students worked together to set up a solar panel which powers a hydroponic garden. It's part of what they call Marjorie's Garden. The students will be growing veggies, herbs, and spices, and they can deliver them across campus to the culinary program.

At Douglas, they're proud of the growth of vocational programs like the culinary arts, which has a revamped kitchen and keen interest among students.

"Preparing them for life after high school – could be the Yales and Harvards, could be the BC's, could be going off to work, my job is to get them ready for that and I think we're doing a great job here," Thompson said.

Judging by the results, it's hard to argue otherwise.

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Stranahan High School]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:02:44 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112017+Stranahan+High.png

After more than five decades serving kids in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, Stranahan High School has earned icon status. The home of the Dragons, however, isn't looking back, the focus is firmly on the needs of students and preparing them for 21st-century careers.

"The old adage is 'tell me, I'll forget; teach me, I may remember; but engage me and I will learn,' so we are definitely proponents of engaging students in a rigorous curriculum," said principal Michelle Padura.

The school has three magnet programs, extensive dual-enrollment opportunities, and all the traditional AP and honors classes.

The medical magnet program attracts students interested in careers in healthcare, and graduates have become doctors, nurses, and other health-related professionals.

The engineering magnet features drones, robots, 3D printers, and more.

"Of course, we want them to have fun, but we want them to have a technical foundation so we emphasize the core components, core concepts in our engineering and STEM disciplines as well," said Gabriel Andrews, the engineering teacher.

Students are ready to study engineering in college or they can earn several industry certifications while they're in high school.

Extensive dual-enrollment options allow students to graduate with an AA degree along with their diplomas.

The school also has the Urban Teacher Academy Preparation magnet program. The goal is to prepare future teachers for the real world.

"We actually have them go out into one of our feeder elementary schools and they go there to work with the elementary school students on literacy, reading, what they do is take the labs they're working on here, it's like taking the show out on the road," Padura said.

Stranahan also emphasizes extra-curricular activities. They have an award-winning marching band, state champion cheerleaders, and the full array of varsity sports.

Thomas Harrison wears two hats, as the athletic director and the activities director, and says he's proud to offer clubs for every interest. Everything from gardening to poetry to guitar to the Latinos in Action club.

"A school is a service industry and I tell our students we're here to serve you so whatever ideas that they have, share with us and we'll make it happen because once they take ownership of their school, that's when the morale and the pride go up," Harrison said.

The Dragons of Stranahan High have options. Lots of options and opportunities to succeed.

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<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Norland Senior High]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 06:01:38 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/111317+Brag+School.png

They've been molding futures at Norland Senior High School in Northeast Miami-Dade since 1958. The alumni pool is deep, with a slew of professional athletes, educators, at least one judge and University of Florida football coach, Randy Shannon.

Now that the school has an entirely new building, Norland is stronger than ever. Graduation rates and enrollment are up, they keep adding new programs and options for students, but the feel here is still old school, with an emphasis on family.

"That's my mission – to make sure they have a safe learning environment and we provide everything they need, and once you do that, they start buying into that family philosophy," said principal Reginald Lee.

Lee says the first order of business for every teacher is to get to know the needs of each child. This is crucial, he says, because so many of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they need extra attention to succeed, and they find it at Norland.

"Kids and students have proven to learn from educators who invest in them, so that's our motto here, get to know the kids first and everything else seems to take care of itself," Lee said.

There's a commitment to building character at Norland. For example, one teacher, Stephanie Pierre, saw a need and founded a mentoring club for girls to fill it. It's called Divas and Ladies of Distinction.

"And its sole purpose is to motivate and inspire and empower these young women to reach up to their fullest potential," Pierre explained.

Norland has seven academies or magnets, including the rigorous Cambridge program, an iPrep academy, a hospital and tourism academy, an award-winning JROTC program, and performing arts and music academy.

The principal told us he encourages teachers to facilitate discussions, to go beyond just lecturing to kids. We saw that philosophy in practice in a Cambridge literature class and in a dual-enrollment, college credit African-American studies class.

"Let them explore, open their minds, discussion like you said, they have – we emphasize that here at Norland," Lee said.

"Why does the devil knock me down when I'm trying to get up? I'm not a dog but my life seems to be a bit rougher," the student-poet recited in front of her peers, mid-way into her opus.

It might be the ultimate discussion-based class: spoken-word poetry. Norland's team is the reigning state champion in the spoken-word poetry competition called Louder Than a Bomb.

The teacher who sponsors the club and teaches the class, Precious Symonette, says poetry improves writing and communication skills, and can raise the self-esteem of teenagers.

"A lot of kids now feel that a lot of adults are not listening to them. I think this gives them the opportunity to be a part of those conversations, to have a seat at the table, if you will," said Symonette.

So while Norland has made strides in academics, the arts, and in vocational programs, the athletic side of the school is a dominant force and always has been.

The boys and girls basketball teams are regulars at the state final four, with both teams having won multiple state championships in recent years.

The football team has also won state titles recently while funneling numerous players into the college and pro football ranks.

Viking Nation is strong, and getting stronger.

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<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Undocumented Student Is an Example for Others]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 20:26:16 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/111017+Swag+6.png

Katherine Almendarez stands out at a school full of standout students.

"Because there's a lot of kids here that are just naturally gifted and smart, whereas her, she's smart but she puts in such an effort and she's positive and she's always happy. It's a joy to teach her every day,” said social studies teacher Stepen Pereira.

Katherine is a straight-A kid at the School for Advanced Studies, a public school in which all the students are juniors and seniors who graduate with high school diplomas and AA degrees from Miami-Dade College. It’s an intense academic environment which regularly feeds its top performers to the Ivy League and the nation’s best colleges.

In this mix of brilliance, Katherine is a Questbridge Scholar with designs on attending Princeton University. She volunteers with several organizations, including Americans for Immigrant Justice, a non-profit immigrant advocacy law firm, and here’s why: Katherine is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras. Her parents left her behind when they came to the United States in 2001.

So Katherine grew up without parents. To reunite the family, she endured a harrowing journey through Central America and smuggled herself across the border just three years ago, at age 15.

"I remember the climax of my journey was being right in front of the Rio Grande and thinking, like, the other side is where my opportunities are gonna be," she said, in near-perfect English.

Katherine turned herself in to Border Patrol agents immediately, and because her parents were already here, under an Obama-era rule, she was allowed to stay. Now, the threat of deportation looms over her.

"My status is just hanging in the hands of the government now," Katherine said. "It's one of my biggest fears."

Her teachers and friends say you’d never know Katherine had any hardship issues going on.

“Because she just looks for no excuses,” Pereira said.

Among her classmates who know her background, Katherine is an inspiration.

"I mean, surely if she had those challenges and kind of just came to school every day, but no, it's more than that. She comes with a smile and she's always ready," said Lynsey Rumbaut, also a senior at S.A.S.

"She's able to outperform the rest of the classmates while she has struggled way more than the rest and, to me, that's like, mind-blowing," said another classmate, Dianelis Lopez.

Katherine realizes that because she came to the U.S. illegally, some people won’t have any sympathy for her situation, and that’s fine with her.

"I understand I wanna be a lawyer. I understand what it is to respect the law and want to uphold the law, so it's like an ethical dilemma that I've had to face – wanting to study law and enforce it, but at the same time having come here illegally," Katherine acknowledges.

A judge will eventually decide whether Katherine gets to live out her dreams in the U.S. In the meantime, she’ll do what she does best, which is excel in school, help others, and set an example.

"For just everyone who looks up to me, I can tell them: 'Yes, with hard word everything is attainable,'" Katherine said.

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<![CDATA[Three Sets of Twins Nominated for Silver Knight Award]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 19:34:02 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/217*120/11817+dr+michael+kropp.jpg

Sociologists might want to look into a unique situation at Dr. Michael Krop High School by asking this question: does being a twin help a student reach the heights of achievement?

The school's nominees for the Silver Knight Awards are 15 top-notch kids, with one fascinating detail.

"Three sets of twins, never seen it, and they're all brilliant," said the school's principal, Dr. Allison Harley.

Coincidence or what? Two sets are identical, the other two sets are brother-sister combinations. All six feel like a sense of gratitude over being nominated together.

"It's crazy, growing up we did everything together and this is just another one of those steps," said Spencer Steinfeld, expressing a common reality among twins, that they're often inseparable during childhood. 

The Silver Knight Awards reward high school seniors for outstanding scholarship and community service, so the nominees are always outstanding students, leaders at their schools.

"When I was announcing the Silver Knights to the whole school, I was like, wait, these are those twins, and I've known these twins for three years, I knew they were amazing, but to think they all made it to this level, it's really special and we're very proud of them" Harley said. 

Of course, the twins are brilliant students, but don't assume that because they're twins, they're all alike. Their interests vary greatly, which is reflected in their Silver Knight nominations.

"For years now, I've been working with The Friendship Circle, which is a non-profit that pairs teen volunteers with special needs children," said Brittany Steinfeld.

She's nominated for vocational technology, while her brother is nominated for science. Zlata Itkin's category is English.

"I've always loved reading and writing, my whole element, essentially," Zlata said.

Her twin brother Mark is the polar opposite, nominated for mathematics.

"It works out, I need help with Language Arts, she proofreads my stuff, she needs help with math, I help her out with any of the homework she needs," Mark Itkin said.

Stephanie and Eliza Morton are the identical twins in the group. One is nominated for business, the other for general scholarship, but both could be nominated for diplomacy.

"We collab and build off of each other's ideas so it's definitely a benefit," Eliza said.

"My sister is very organized, she always knows what to do," said Stephanie.

Here's what all 15 know how to do: succeed in school and beyond. 

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<![CDATA[Educator Creates Program Inspiring Children to Succeed]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 08:30:40 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/110817+inspire+one+success+south+florida+program.JPG

Sheneka Brown's smile says it all - an educator that loves her job, while playing a role in shaping the young minds of students, she noticed a need.

“It’s a lot of testing and so forth, so what I wanted to do was give them real life and real world applications along with reading and mathematics,” Brown said. “So that started the birth of Inspire One.”

Brown started Inspire One Success, an organization geared toward helping students in grades K-12 with reading and math. But it's not just about bettering students in subjects - it's also something much deeper than that.

“We also build in our curriculum mentorship and character building,” said Brown. “We try to get the kids to discover who they are, who they want to be and discover their purpose within our curriculum.”

Brown currently has 10-12 students in her program. Inspire One Success is still in its infant stages, only a year in existence. But even with the short amount of time, parents say they've seen a change in their children's academics.

“The results I've seen so far have been major, especially when it comes to testing,” said Latara Delancy, the mother of one program participant. “He's more confident now, he's more prepared and I'm just so grateful that he's able to do so.”

For brown, she believes the program is her mission and her calling to make a change.

“My goal was to be able to change one life, and I want that one life to change many, so every time I hear parents and I see kids make a change, it brings such a joy in my heart to know that I was able to be a part of that,” Brown said.

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<![CDATA[Broward Schools Superintendent Gets New Contract]]>Tue, 07 Nov 2017 19:31:46 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Broward_Schools_Superintendent_Gets_New_Contract.jpg

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie gets a new contract.

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<![CDATA[Brag About Piper High School]]>Mon, 06 Nov 2017 19:35:21 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/110617+brag+about+piper+high.jpg

When a school’s been educating students for 45 years, it becomes a pillar of the community, the kind of place generations of family members attend. That’s what Piper High School in Sunrise is to central Broward County.

“We're a school that services the community around us, we’re not a magnet school, but we have many programs to offer the kids,” said Angel Gomez, Piper’s principal.

For example, Piper’s JROTC unit, the Bengal Battalion, provides a top-flight leadership training experience. Last year, this group finished in the nation’s top 25 for academic achievement.

“They learn academic rigor, they learn how to be successful in academic and life challenges that adults must face, they learn how to take leadership roles,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Kimmey, the JROTC commander.

Piper High has evolved to the point where it’s going to an all-academy system. Kids who are shooting for the highest level of academic rigor might opt for the AP Capstone academy. Those who want to pursue careers in business or perhaps major in business in college might enroll in the Finance Academy. There are also academies in journalism, dual enrollment with Broward College, and more.

It’s part of the school’s evolution.

"Every student that comes in, right now every 9th grader is part of an academic academy based on their interest, that actually narrows down the path, it makes this world that’s so large in a high school, it brings it down to manageable size,” Gomez said.

The academies give students college prep, career prep, or both.

"The idea is that when they leave here, they’ve got something that makes them more marketable,” said Mark Ophaug, the school’s academies director. "Like those kids back here (in the finance academy class) are getting certified in Quickbooks, so when they graduate high school they’ll have a Quickbook certification they can use on the job in a career.”

They pay attention to the changing demands of the work force, the requirements colleges are looking for, and then try to prepare their students to meet those challenges.

That may as well be Piper High’s mantra.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[SWAG on 6: Homar Ali is Putting His Peers on Path to Success]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:08:49 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/110317+Homar+Ali.png

At Pompano Beach High School, everyone seems to know Homar Ali.

"Yeah. He's sort of Beyoncé here. He's very influential," said one of his classmates, Debbie Sineus.

Homar runs the National Honor Society at his school, and his adviser says that’s just one way that he contributes to his school and the community at large. Sandy Melillo has been teaching for 45 years and says Homar is one of the absolute best students she’s ever had.

"He is in the top 1 percent. He is just so organized, so humble, so outstanding, so wonderful and he makes my job easier every day," Melillo said.

It wasn’t enough for Homar to be involved himself in all kinds of high school activities, from organizing a Halloween party fundraiser to leading his peers to be involved in Relay for Life. He thought of a unique way to bring freshmen and sophomores along for the ride, too.

"It is hard to join extracurricular activities freshman year. You don't know where to start. You don't know how to start,” Homar said to a meeting of freshmen and sophomores.

What he said is especially true at an all-magnet school like Pompano High, where most freshmen don’t know each other. So Homar created the National Honor Society Novice Club, designed to give 9th and 10th graders leadership roles and community service opportunities.

It's just something I wish I had when I was a freshman or sophomore," Homar said. "It is hard here at Pompano to hang out with people because they do live in all parts of Broward County, so there is a way for them to actually come in and join together."

The Novice Club fills the two-year gap between middle school, when kids can first join the National Honor Society, to 10th grade, when they can join the high school version.

His friends say Homar is the kid they turn to for inspiration.

He's very involved in academics – the top of the class. He sets the standard for all the rest of us," said Marlen Spence, a senior and one of Homar’s friends.

“He inspired me to join the National Honor Society. He’s the one who pushed me and I really thank him for that,” said Debbie Sineus, the classmate who said Homar is Beyoncé-like.

Homar’s a star in the classroom, too. He’s applying to top colleges, such as the University of Chicago and Brown University, hoping to one day be a pediatrician.

This kid who volunteers every Friday (because Pompano Beach High has a four-day week) at his old elementary school, who tutors peers at his high school, says he’s most proud of creating a pathway to service for younger students through the Novice Club.

"I definitely hope this continues on and I hope that does become my legacy," Homar said.

Maybe other schools will jump on board, too.

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<![CDATA[South Florida Students Paint Personal Gift for Refugees]]>Wed, 01 Nov 2017 18:23:54 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/110117+refugee+artwork.jpg

The photographs are striking because every one of them shows a child smiling. If every picture tells a story, these pictures would all tell happy tales of childhood, except that the kids in the photos are Syrians who have been displaced by that country’s brutal civil war. The children live in a refugee camp, and most are destitute.

None of the students in Lauren Rosa’s art class could possibly know the daily terror and deprivation the faces in the pictures have endured.

"It makes me sad that they don’t really have anything so to do this project, it’s an honor, really, because I can give them something they really don’t have,” said Angelina Lazo, a senior art student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

The project she’s referring to is called the Memory Project. That charitable organization provides the photographs, and the art students create portraits from the pictures. Every child depicted in the photos knows the sounds, the smells, and the traumatic sights of war.

"We want them to be light-hearted and happy and sent a positive message about, somebody cared enough to make this portrait for them,” said the teacher, Lauren Rosa.

The Memory Project takes the pictures and sends them to schools, and then delivers the finished portraits to kids in the refugee camp.

"They might not even have their own parents anymore, no family members, they have no personal belongings," said Rosa. "Now they have something personal, personal that was created just for them, so it’s really moving for my kids."

Making the portraits, gazing into the same face for weeks, has an effect on attitudes.

"It's a combination of being kind of sad that they’re in that situation but then happy because I’m able to give them something," said Gwyneth Morris, a senior.

The impact of their work isn’t just a theoretical concept for these students, they actually get to see how their portraits are received by the kids on the other side of the planet.

The Memory Project shoots video as they hand out the portraits, and the class will get to see the video featuring the Syrian refugee kids in April.

The older kids in the class have already had the experience of seeing their work given to the child for whom it was intended. Last year, the class work went to an orphanage in Colombia. The year before, they created portraits for children in Ethiopia.

"It really makes you think about how you can impact people that you don’t even know who are halfway across the world, just by doing an art piece, it’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” said senior Maddy Dittman.

As you watch the students work with their colored pencils, line by line, faces appear on the paper, all of them smiling. They are moments worth capturing.

"And if that one bright spot can stay with them for a lifetime, or help them through this difficult time they’re going through, it’s really meaningful," Rosa said.

It’s also a testament to the power of art.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Brag About Your School: Poinciana Park Elementary]]>Mon, 30 Oct 2017 18:22:58 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/103017+brag+about+your+school+poinciana+park+elementary.jpg

The stigma of being labeled a “failing school” can be hard to shed, but it’s not an impossible task. Just ask the students and teachers at Poinciana Park Elementary School in Liberty City.

We watched fifth graders learning basic laws of physics when we visited, but you could say the school already defied the laws of gravity by catapulting from an “F” to an “A” grade in one academic year.

“The feeling is wonderful, it’s outstanding, we have to keep up this momentum and we’re doing all the things plus adding additional things to insure we continue to maintain that “A”,” said principal Tania Jones.

How did they make that leap? One part of the strategy was to implement as many hands-on learning projects as possible. The turnaround also relied on professionals on the staff, the success coach, reading coach, and math coach. They are teachers who concentrate on intense interventional work with students who need the help.

“Oh my goodness, it was very tough, just coming into a situation where the scores were very low, some of the morale was not there, some of the students felt as though they could not be successful,” said Sakinah Lewis, the school’s match coach.

They raised morale with incentives, positive reinforcement, and with programs such as the 5,000 Role Models for Excellence organization. The biggest key to the school’s renaissance, the remarkable gains in achievement, was simply the hard work put in by students and teachers.

“Hard work, early mornings, late evenings, passion, making certain that we built that relationship, that we were able to communicate with the kids, with the parents, that they understood we had a goal, we had shared mission,” said Melissa Miller, the reading coach.

The faculty team used data to concentrate on the kids who were in the bottom 25 percent in grades and test scores. With one-on-one attention, the strategy worked.

“Before school, after school tutoring, Saturday academy, whatever it took to get the school to move,” Lewis said.

The teachers say now, there’s a palpable difference in attitudes among the students. They feel like they’re expected to succeed.

“Oh my gosh, it was so rewarding to see that we’re able to turn the impossible into the inevitable,” Miller said.

With the turnaround complete, Poinciana Park has a different focus: staying on top.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Facebook Hosts Anti-Bullying Seminar at SW Senior High]]>Fri, 27 Oct 2017 18:43:58 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/201*120/102717+bullying.jpg

It seems like every week, there’s a new, horrible case of cyber bullying in the news. Facebook says it’s fighting back in several ways, from technical fixes and changes on its platform, to partnering with agencies around the world to fight bullying in all of its forms.

The social media giant sponsored an all-day seminar Friday at Southwest Senior High School in Miami, a training session designed to turn students into anti-bullying ambassadors.

The students, teachers, and activities directors represented most of the public high schools in Miami-Dade County, and they did it on their day off, there was no school Friday.

The program was created by The Diana Award, the late Princess Diana’s legacy project. The charity’s representatives flew in from London.

"We're here because she believed young people could change the world, so this program that we're introducing is all about young people given the power and the responsibility to not only protect themselves from bullying but also to protect their peers," said Alex Holmes of The Diana Award.

The kids created bullying scenarios, made posters, watched videos,  and discussed strategies with each other. Cyber bullying was, of course, a major topic of concern, and speaking of flying long distances, Facebook’s global safety manager, Karuna Nain, came to the event from the company’s headquarters in California.

“This is just the start of the journey for them, they’ll become anti-bullying ambassadors,“ Nain said. “They’ll learn how they can make a difference in their communities.”

Nain said students should report cyber bullying to Facebook and even to law enforcement if they feel someone is danger from someone else or, perhaps, a suicide risk.

The Diana Award says studies show 85% of all bullying incidents are witnessed by someone else, which means there is ample opportunity for intervention.

"Like the bully calling a kid ugly, you want to go over and help, you want to support that guy," Jeremy Vargas from North Miami Beach High School said to another young man, Jamal Pinckney of Hialeah High.

"I agree with him because some people will just stand there and like, don't say anything," Pinckney responded.

Some of the kids taking part in the training session felt especially suited for the task because they were bullied themselves, like Kevin Diaz, who went from victim to being voted Homecoming King.

"I want to be part of this program because I want to be that positive influence," said Diaz, a senior at South Miami High.

That’s the essence of what this effort is all about, spreading the word that it’s not hard to get involved, and an army of positive force can overcome all kinds of bullying. 

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<![CDATA[Students Learn How to Trade in the Stock Market]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 20:34:31 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/102517+stocks.jpg

From sports to band to drama to debate to robotics and more, there is no shortage of ways for high schools to compete with one another. You can now add another one to the list: stock trading.

The second annual Stock Market Challenge, put together by Junior Achievement of Miami, pitted 270 students from eleven high schools against each other. The kids were buying and selling, keeping their eyes on the ticker, listening for financial news updates, just like they were in the trading pits of the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ.

"Every time one of our stocks goes down, I get a heart attack," one student from Southwest Senior High said, as the frantic trading was going on around her. 

Each team had a fictional pot of money, one million dollars, to start the competition, and all the students were tutored in advance by expert volunteers. Educators call this a perfect example of project-based learning.

"Taking students actually to realistic scenarios and let them interact as the professionals they will be very soon, is the best way to learn," said Miami-Dade Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho. "If we teach them the principles of financial literacy, they will avoid the pitfalls that many adults currently today are facing."

The Challenge was obviously fun, with a dose of pressure. There's an intense amount of teamwork involved in deciding which companies to invest in at the right time. Every group was gunning for victory, but the most important takeaway for the kids is the experience itself.

"We hope they'll go back to their schools  with a fabulous understanding of the market, recognizing how news impacts the values of the companies and that they will recognize the importance of becoming financially literate and how decisions and consequences can either make a portfolio or break a portfolio," said Cathy Haga, president of Junior Achievement of Miami.

At the closing bell, the team from Southwest Senior High School won the championship and the trophy and prestige that goes along with it.

The teachers who were involved in the Stock Market Challenge say the investment in time will pay dividends for all the students. 

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<![CDATA[BarryU Tech Students Learning to Master 3D Printing]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 18:22:28 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/BarryU_Tech_Students_Learning_to_Master_3D_Printing.jpg

Students in Barry University's exclusive computer tech program are learning to master 3D printing. NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports.

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<![CDATA['Puppy Raising' Part of Lesson Plan at Davie School]]>Wed, 04 Oct 2017 18:28:01 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/100417+gunther+Nova+Eisenhower+Elementary+School.jpg

Gunther is just like every other fourth-grader at Nova Eisenhower Elementary School in Davie, with some slight differences. They write with pens, he stays in one. They have hair, he has fur. Their shirts have collars, he wears one.

Yes, Gunther is a dog, and the students in Suzanne Shaw’s class are collectively "puppy raising" him, preparing him for service dog training.

"He’s learning basic commands and he’s learning to get along with everyone," Shaw said.

Gunther doesn’t just hang out in the classroom. He’s an integral part of Shaw’s lesson plans.

"Over 20 years of teaching, it has just brought new life into it, the students love him, they want to be here every day, they love being with Gunther, he is just part of their class,” Shaw said.

The kids socialize Gunther while he unleashes learning opportunities for the kids.

"It’s very unique and when you come into this class it’s contagious, all the lessons that she does are centered around Gunther,” said Broward County School Board member Laurie Rich Levinson, who was instrumental in paving the way for Gunther’s classroom experience.

"Everything we can tie him to, we do; math, we have morning math with Gunther called Gunther Math, whatever the skill in our math series, we’re tying it to Gunther,” said Shaw.

She also has the students reading dog-centric children’s literature, and canine-inspired vocabulary words decorate the walls.

To say this golden retriever is beloved would be an understatement. His picture is in the yearbook like every other student. Gunther is all calm and no bite with his classmates.

"There are students who’ve gone through difficulties at home, there’s students who have difficulties in class learning, it has motivated them and helped them kind of relax and feel better about being here,” Shaw explained.

For Gunther, this whole experience is sort of like kindergarten through 12th grade, but he still has to go to college. That means graduating and leaving this class.

"February 16th is the day he matriculates to advanced training and there’ll be a couple of tears,” Shaw said, knowing half the class will probably be weeping as Gunther leaves.

He will be trained as a service dog by Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit agency which supplies service dogs free of charge to people who need them.

Rich Levinson says what has worked in Shaw’s class could also work in other classrooms in South Florida.

"Yes, we hope that there will be others who want to do this, this has worked out incredibly well in this school,” she said.

For the time being, Gunther is the leader of his pack of fourth-graders. Soon he’ll be one person’s faithful companion.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Students Design Peace Sleeves for Starbucks Cups]]>Wed, 27 Sep 2017 19:30:53 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/305*120/092717+peace+sleeves.jpg

If you’re like most people, you pay scant attention to the insulating cardboard sleeve on your coffee cup. It’s an innocuous part of sipping your morning brew. But what if it was actually a work of original art, with a message promoting peace, tolerance, and understanding?

Starbucks customers, you will start to see sleeves like that very soon at Broward County stores.

The concept of the Peace Sleeves, as they’re called, started at Sunrise Middle School in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago. We watched eighth-grade students at work, with paintbrushes and markers and creativity, turning the cardboard thingies into little paintings. The kids want all of us to wake up and smell the message.

"The message is to choose peace, stop violence," said Cosie Proctor, one of the students working on the project. 

It’s part of Broward Public Schools’ Peace Week. The theme is Choose Peace, Stop Violence. It’s sponsored by United Way of Broward and the Children’s Services Council. This year 90 schools are involved, 38,000 Peace Sleeves will be distributed to local Starbucks stores, but it all started in Karen Alfieri’s classroom.

"We decided we wanted to do an activity where my students would be able to take the knowledge they learned in class to the community," said Alfieri, who teaches peer counseling. 

She talked it over with art teacher and coffeeholic Stacy Shugerman, who came up with the idea of turning the sleeves into statements.

"I throw away a lot of sleeves so I said there had to be a project my kids could do with it and what better way of spreading peace?" Shugerman said.

So the teachers approached Starbucks, the coffee giant jumped on board, and now the kids are brewing batches of artworks.

"I think they get a real life experience of being an artist, of being able to express themselves through art," said Shugerman.

Every sleeve is original, and each one is stamped with the school of origin so you can see where your sleeve was made. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself smiling at your coffee cup. Which is part of the idea.

"Just makes me happy, like, picturing someone getting the sleeve and picking it up and being like 'Oh, that's cute," said 8th grader Dina Stein.

Her classmate had a similar thought.

"It's cute, it helps you understand what peace is about," said Ludnie Toussaint, as she was painting a handful of sleeves. 

So the kids are creating warm messages on a product designed to keep coffee warm, and maybe giving you a peaceful start to your day. 

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<![CDATA[South Florida Principals Working at Their Alma Maters]]>Wed, 30 Aug 2017 19:23:39 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/083017+principals+return+alma+maters.jpg

It could be said that the new principal of John F. Kennedy Middle School knows his way around the building. Back in 1979, when it was J.F.K. Junior High School, Bernie Osborn was a 9th grader, about to graduate to high school.

“It was a time warp, like I’d never left, the hallways still looked the same, it smelled the same,” Osborn said, describing his first day on the job as principal.

Across town at Miami Jackson High School, the new commanding General has that same déjà vu feeling.

“It is definitely surreal,” said the school’s new principal, Rennina Turner.

Their histories give these principals built-in credibility with their students.

“I told them I went to school here, which I think kind of endears me more to them, that I have credibility, I’m here and I’m glad to be here,” Osborn said.

That line works for Turner, too.

“As I tell the students, this is home for me, and being home makes it personal, so the work that I’m doing is personal work, it’s not, I’m just the principal of a high school,” Turner explained.

Watching Turner high-five with students, seeing her walk into classrooms with a grin on her face, it’s clear that she can’t hide her excitement about working at her alma mater. Part of that exuberance comes from knowing that she’s perhaps the ultimate role model at Jackson High.

“For them to know that I grew up in a community very much like them, I grew up in Liberty City, that if I can do it, certainly they can, too.” Turner said.

Both of these principals claim to have been excellent students who were never called to their current offices when they were kids.

“I was an angel,” Turner said, giggling as she said it.

She met her husband of 20 years at Jackson. Turner married her high school sweetheart and her oldest son graduated from Jackson High in 2015.

So what about Osborn, any interesting tales from his junior high years?

“I got my first kiss out there by the tree after school one day so that was interesting,” Osborn said with a grin.

Does he tell his students that story?

“Uh, no, but I guess they'll know now!” said the principal.

Osborn says his mission at his old/new school is to improve community perceptions about J.F.K. Middle. The school’s Biomedical Engineering program is one of only 55 certified magnet programs in the nation. They’re reinstating the PTA after a three-year absence, and after narrowly missing a “B” grade last year, J.F.K. is shooting for an “A” this year.

“I want the kids to feel good about coming here,” Osborn said.

Turner is raising spirits and expectations among the Jackson High student body.

“When I say to them, this is your school, but apart from it being your school it’s also my school, they feel that,” Turner said.



Photo Credit: Ari Odzer/NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Father Makes Push For Standing Desk in Classrooms]]>Thu, 24 Aug 2017 16:09:22 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Father_Leads_Effort_For_Stand_Up_Desks_in_Classrooms.jpg

One father is hoping schools will take a different approach to the typical classroom assigned-seating – using standing desk normally seen in workplaces in a school setting to help kids stay healthy.

After his five year old son broke his leg from a ski accident, Derek Lopez did some research and got an idea.

“I looked into the whole situation deeper and I really realize that even thought he was sitting in a wheelchair all day for months, his activity levels were really not any different than the rest of students in the class except for recess time,” Lopez said.

That's when the father of three realized all students need options and created stand up our kids

“Most kids are sitting down for five to ten hours per day,” Lopez said. “We're having a problem with over diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, childhood obesity is actually growing across the country and just in general giving the kids the opportunity a chance to think for themselves.”

Two classrooms in Broward have desks fundraised and built by Derek, including Nova High and Oakland Park Elementary.

“It was a real eye opener to see certain kids that I had them on their knees or the desk or standing up and leaning over,” said Ricky Walker, a teacher at Oakland Park Elementary. “This is just a comfort level and to put them at ease knowing that ‘hey, that's my option.’”

The third grade teacher says his entire classroom is built on a flexible approach to assigned seating - because in his class you don't have to sit if you don’t want to.

Lopez is working on his social media campaign to continue raising awareness and funds. Even schools in his current hometown of Denver have added the standing desks

“My main goal is to give every kid in this country the opportunity to stand up in class,” Lopez said.

If you'd like you donate to the Stand Up Our Kids' Gofundme, click here.

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