Brag About Your School: BioTECH at Richmond Heights High School

There are so many magnet programs in South Florida’s public schools, students can find something for almost any academic interest. Performing arts, health sciences, legal studies, cyber security, you name it, there’s probably a school featuring it.

BioTECH at Richmond Heights High School takes the magnet concept to a different level. The entire school is devoted exclusively to conservation biology, the only such school in the nation.

“This school is totally focused on science and it’s focused on learning to do science out in the field by hand so we’re not just locked up in a lab, we’re not just in a classroom doing theory, we’re actually doing practical science,” said Danny Mateo, the school’s principal.

The old real estate saying, “location location location,” applies spectacularly to BioTECH.

The students use three campuses: a traditional school building in Richmond Heights, plus classrooms and labs at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and at Zoo Miami. So after a five minute walk from the classrooms, the kids can be facing down any of the animals at the zoo.

“If you’re studying an alligator, you can go out and look at the alligator, you’re studying a giraffe, go out and study the giraffe, to have that eye to eye connection with the wildlife, face to face, that makes a huge difference,” said Zoo Miami’s Ron Magill.

They like to say they’re growing researchers here.

“It’s instantaneous in a sense, where they don’t have to just read a book on, whatever, DNA extraction, they get to do DNA extraction on their own,” explained program director Christine Kerr.

Many of the students will be published scientific authors before they graduate from high school.

“We think that the experience they have makes them probably light years ahead of the competition when they get to college,” said teacher Noelle Gerstman.

The students also learn from resident experts and from Everglades National Park rangers.

“And those scientists serve as mentors, they’re add-ons to our existing faculty to get students to really get hands on, investigate something of value and hopefully contribute to the body of knowledge that’s out there in the scientific community,” Mateo said.

The registration period for all Miami-Dade Public Schools magnet programs runs through January 15th. BioTECH has only 400 students, all of whom are chosen by lottery.

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