Miami's Jackson High School has an illustrious history. It opened as an elementary school in 1898, and its fortunes have ebbed and flowed athletically and academically over the decades. You could say right now, the Jackson Generals are surging in the classroom.
"There hasn't been a school that's achieved more in the last couple of years than Miami Jackson," said Carlos Rios, the school's principal. "Over the last four years this school's improved in all academic areas, not only math, not only science, reading and writing, across the board."
Jackson has received either an "A" or "B" grade from the state in each of the last four years. Rios said there's been a culture change at the school, with enrollment up by about 500 students in that same time period, and he said Jackson is attracting energetic, dedicated teachers who want to be part of the challenge of making an inner city school a success.
The entire student body is on free or reduced lunch, and 20 percent of the kids are still learning English.
"My challenge to the students here is, you can overcome, you may not have been dealt the best hand but you can outperform other students at other schools," Rios said.
Jackson High gives its students many avenues to pursue success, including a unique magnet program in international finance, complete with an actual credit union branch inside the school. Students learn to be bank officers, tellers and the basics of financial management.
For students interested in a career in health care, Jackson offers a program which gets them started in nursing. They graduate as certified nursing assistants, and from there they can pursue just about anything in the health care field.
"I believe that we have just some great students here, they're very attentive, they want to do this," said Ruth Taylor, a former emergency room nurse who runs the program.
Of course, like any high school, Jackson offers AP and advanced classes. Unlike most schools, this one has an agriscience program complete with goats, chickens and tilapia. Yes, students grow fish at Jackson High's aquaponics facility, and then use the fish poop to fertilize vegetables.
That's unique, but it's not the only STEM program worth bragging about at Jackson. The school has a solar energy panel that produces enough electricity to power the building for one day of the school year. Kids in science classes monitor the output of the panels and learn about renewable energy.
"And the most important part is for them to realize that it decreases CO-2 emissions, so every time we use anything renewable, we're helping to save the earth," said Assistant Principal Ana Barreto.
Jackson has produced star athletes like NBA great Mychal Thompson, who played on the Lakers' title teams under Pat Riley, and Major League Baseball's Lenny Harris, Rafael Palmeiro and Warren Cromartie. College Gameday's Lee Corso was a General.
The next great graduate might be walking the halls of the school today.