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.
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