1. Sofia Aguilar, eighth grade, Brucie Ball Educational Center:
Sofia Aguilar is a remarkable young lady who overcame a harrowing near death drowning at the age of four when she was submerged over 15 minutes. Sofia works every day to improve her capabilities. Initially, she struggled to get her vision in focus enough to sustain her attention, yet now she is alert and interacting with all that is happening around her. She will clearly express her opinion to others. Even though Sofia’s words are not conventional, she has vibrant eyes and vivid facial expressions leaving no doubt as to her intended message. Whether smiling for a picture, alerting her teacher to the antics of one of her pets or her distress over the peril of a character in a book or the silliness of the topsy-turvy action in a story, Sofia will deliver her thoughts precisely with clear focus and persistence as needed. Sofia will even let her teacher know that math is not her favorite subject but will cooperate after a little negotiating. Sofia is a curious teenager who is also mature and responsible as the big sister she really is. She loves bling, pretty clothes, and being a social butterfly. Sofia is a dedicated and hardworking 8th grade student who will continue to excel because she has a passion for life.
2. Aaliyah Brown, twelfth grade, School for Advanced Studies North, Washington, D.C. Trip Winner:
Aaliyah Leehanna Brown is an African American LGBQT youth that has always been concerned about raising awareness on LGBQT issues with the general public so that they can better understand young people that identify in the way that Aaliyah does. She feels that the general public doesn’t really understand LGBQT youth because they frequently are not properly portrayed in the mass media and popular culture. Aaliyah also possesses special artistic talent so she decided to put that artistic talent to work to achieve her goal of raising awareness. Aaliyah took it upon herself to produce a magazine/artbook with drawings that pertain to issues of identity for youth that are LGBQTIA. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning, Transgender, Intersex, and asexual/ aromantic). Her goal is to be a freelance illustrator someday and she plans on attending Howard University in Washington D.C. in the fall of 2021 to pursue that dream. With each identity that is part of the LGBQTIA continuum, Aaliyah’s publication discusses popular misconceptions and historical facts and gives little tidbits about comical characteristics that LGBQTIA youth possess. Aaliyah believes that approaching this project with a sense of humor but always doing so in positive manner will help her reach more people. The reason Aaliyah finds raising awareness about LGBQTIA issues so important is that she has found that the typical depictions of these youth in the media and popular culture are often offensive and sometimes exaggerated. When she was growing up she tried to find films that portrayed her as a minority dealing with these issues and could not find any depictions that she could relate to or that were accurate. The premise of her project and publication is to provide an accurate depiction of LGBQTIA youth so that young people such as Aaliyah feel more accepted for who they are. Some of the problems that affect LGBQTIA youth result from their own lack of acceptance. Having LGBQTIA youth love and accept themselves for who they are is a primary goal of Aaliyah’s publication but equally important to her is having the general public gain a better understanding of youth who identify in this way.
Aaliyah is one of the finest students in the very demanding academic program at School for Advanced Studies North Campus. Her unweighted GPA of 3.58 and her weighted GPA of 4.66 puts her in the top group of students graduating in 2021 in Miami-Dade County. Aaliyah also swims and is part of the track and field team at her neighborhood high school. She is a role model for other LGBQTIA youth who often feel lost and misunderstood and sometimes are at high risk for self-destructive behaviors. Aaliyah’s project is attempting to address that problem in our society and she is deserving of recognition for this project.
3. Alexander Chavez, first grade, Pinecrest Academy South Charter:
Alexander Chavez is a very respectful and sweet first grade student. Recently both of his maternal grandparents passed away within 45 days of each other. This has been very hard for his mother and family as their grandparents were very close and lived with the family. Alexander has been very loving and comforting towards his mother and younger brother and has tried to cheer them up even though he also feels sad about their loss. Despite the circumstances, Alexander tries hard in the classroom, behaves well and is respectful and polite to his teacher. He is a sweet child who is trying daily to put a smile in his mom’s eyes.
4. Naïca Garçon, twelfth grade, Miami Springs SHS:
Naica is an outstanding young woman who is a model citizen. She immigrated here a few years ago from Haiti with her father and younger sister. Naica not only speaks Creole, but she has mastered English and Spanish. While this is amazing in itself, this is not all that she has accomplished. She has managed to go from regular classes to Honors, AP, and Cambridge as well. She leads her peers as Anchor Club President and even is a state officer. She is active in the HIP program at school as well as other various extracurricular activities. Naica has taken under her wing another young Haitian student and not only translates for her, but advocates on her behalf. This summer she started working in the food service industry in order to help ends meet during this financially difficult time. Naica is an amazing young woman who works hard and makes sure that she does right by all.
5. Jafar Hyde, fifth grade, Brucie Ball Educational Center, Rapids Water Park Trip Winner:
Jafar is an 11-year-old boy who has struggled with sickle cell disease and threat of kidney failure for many years. He began with the hospital/homebound program when he was five years old, following a traumatic surgery during in which he underwent multiple amputations. Jafar goes to dialysis several times per week. When Jafar began with the hospital/homebound educational program he was very reluctant to participate and experienced intense agitation, an inability to focus, and he was not able to read. In recent years, particularly this past year, Jafar has made impressive and noteworthy progress. His attitude towards learning and socialization has improved and he’s shown an enhanced level of cooperation. Jafar has begun to approach his class sessions and assignments with enthusiasm and interest and has become both a joy and a pleasure to work with. In spite of all his obstacles, Jafar is truly a STAR.
6. Jose Luis Mercado, eighth grade, Jorge Mas Canosa MS :
Jose Luis has always shown empathy towards others and is known for being an advocate. While in class, his teacher noticed he was quieter than usual and seemed off. When he engaged him in conversation, Jose Luis explained that he has a friend that is hurting himself and he is worried over his health and concerned that he doesn’t listen to his advice. He finally decided to speak to his friend’s parents even though he was aware that it may cause friction between him and his friend. Jose Luis chose to do the right thing in finding help for his friend.
7. Matheus Oliveira, fifth grade, EWF Stirrup ES :
Matheus is a fifth grade student who recently came from Brazil. Matheus is legally blind but his love for school is seen every day. He loves to make friends and make others laugh. He wants to show people that everyone deserves respect even if you have a disability. He does not see his blindness as something negative but as a gift that he has because he sees the world differently than other people. His joy for being in school keeps him happy, especially when he makes friends. He was never in a school setting in Brazil so this is a new experience for him. He is always eager to learn new things and always loves to share what he learns with his mom.
8. Marquia Riley-Asbury, fifth grade, Earlington Heights ES:
Marquia entered 5th grade with a brand new attitude despite the challenges we are all facing with the new normal. These past few years she has struggled due to the passing of her father, who she was very close to. She now channels her grief to do better and be a leader. She is always on task and looks forward to new challenges. She goes above and beyond to complete her assignments with accuracy and is willing to work on her social skills to help others. Her resilience, growth, and the way she strives to keep being and doing better is truly inspirational.
9. Michael Velasquez, fourth grade, Redland ES:
A little more than a month before school began Michael lost his mother. His ability to be able to persevere through this and return to school virtually has been remarkable. His only complaint was that his sister’s computer was loud and he could hear her teachers. Michael is a wonderful student who is well behaved, participates in class, and has good answers. He also shows respect to his teachers and classmates. Michael’s strength is admirable, especially on top of the challenging times we are all living in.
10. Betule Zlekhah, twelfth grade, School for Advanced Studies Homestead:
Betule has demonstrated her fervor for helping others through the various service projects she has been a part of within the past years. She is a well-established volunteer at her local mosque, helping with food distributions to underprivileged communities, environmental cleanups, and event setups. She has also provided math tutoring to the children in her community. Betule is a volunteer at the Whispering Manes Therapeutic Riding Center where she has assisted children with disabilities partake in physical activity through horseback riding. Additionally, Betule is a volunteer at the “Traveling Library,” in which she helps deliver books to children’s homes. Within this past year, she has begun a Mental Health Awareness initiative at her local mosque in which she has organized live events with psychiatrists and psychologists. Moreover, with the shift in the social state as a result of the virus, Betule instituted a podcast series titled, “Peace of Mind” where she and two peers collaborate with a Board Certified Psychiatrist in order to hold discussions of various topics pertaining to Mental Health. More recently, Betule has also addressed Mental Health issues in the Elderly and has led a “Walking the Elderly” initiative. As a result of her Mental Health Awareness initiative and her podcast, Betule has been able to expand her community’s awareness of various Mental Health topics including depression and the mental health effects of Covid-19. Furthermore, by walking the elderly, Betule has been able to provide companionship and physical aid to the elderly in her community. One of the people receiving her services is a Senior that lives with Alzheimer’s. Betule has provided her emotional support through not only walking her but also participating in assorted activities including painting and adult coloring. Betule is making a difference in her community.