Rev. Sharpton tours Education Effect sites, urges students to ‘be their own fan club’

Rev. Al Sharpton peered inside the aquaponics tank at Miami Northwestern Senior High School – brimming with tilapia raised by the school’s agroecology students – and remarked, “very impressive.”

Rev. Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton tours the aquaponics lab and organic garden at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Liberty City with Maria Lovett, partnership director for The Education Effect.

Maria Lovett, partnership director of The Education Effect, took the opportunity to invite the civil rights leader back for another visit.

“You should come back Thursday – we’re having a fish fry for the teachers,’’ she said.

Sharpton couldn’t make the fish fry but he congratulated the school, its students and FIU on the collaborative partnership that has helped Miami Northwestern boost graduation rates, improve student test scores and increase the number of students going to college.

“There are a lot of people here who believe in you,’’ Sharpton told the assembly of students gathered for a career awareness day hosted by FIU and Education for a Better America. “The question is whether you believe in yourself. You have got to be the head of your own fan club.’’

Sharpton’s visit included stops at Miami Northwestern in Liberty City and Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Overtown, both sites of The Education Effect, a university community school partnership between FIU and Miami-Dade County Public Schools that has gained national attention as a model for school transformation.

President Mark B. Rosenberg, who joined Sharpton on stage at both schools, urged students at Miami Northwestern to follow in the path of classmates like Shaquilla Thomas, Rene Maurice and Angie Fleurissaint, all recent graduates of Northwestern now enrolled at FIU.

President Rosenberg and Rev. Sharpton

President Mark B. Rosenberg greets the Rev. Al Sharpton at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Liberty City.

“I am so proud of the fact that today we have four times as many Miami Northwestern students enrolled at our FIU than we did just five years ago,’’ he said. “Those doors and those opportunities are open to you as well.”

Sharpton’s organization, the National Action Network, has made access to education one of its top priorities, with Sharpton calling it the “civil rights issue of our day.’’ His visit was arranged by Education for a Better America, a national advocacy organization headed by FIU alumnus Marcus Bright and Dominique Sharpton, Al Sharpton’s oldest daughter.

“We have seen the success of The Education Effect and it is something that we would like to see ‘scaled up’ across the nation,’’ Dominique Sharpton told students at Miami Northwestern. “You are setting the tone for success across the country.”

At Booker T., two FIU graduates spoke to students about career opportunities – and overcoming setbacks.

Cari  Hernandez, an executive producer at CBS4 Miami, graduated from FIU in 1998 with a degree in broadcast journalism and hoped to land a job as a newscaster. Her first job was working behind the scenes – making $6 an hour.

“I took that job and asked them to teach me how to write, how to tell stories,’’ she said. “And that’s what I do today and I love it. Someone gave me a hand so I try to do that as well.’’

James Sampson ’07 said he wanted to “paint some reality” for the students. Though he worked two jobs while studying for his degree in electrical engineering, he found time to get involved in the National Society of Black Engineers. He had several internships while in college as well.

“You have to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you,’’ he said. “This partnership with FIU is an opportunity. You cannot give up on education. You give up on education, you give up on yourself. There were times I wanted to give up. But I knew who I was and who I wanted to be.’’

Irma Becerra-Fernandez, FIU’s vice president for engagement, shared her own story of overcoming obstacles.

“As a young engineering student at FIU, I often had to elbow my way in the lab for a chance to connect electronic components,’’ said Becerra-Fernandez, whose office oversees The Education Effect. “I managed to burn out a few transformers. But fortunately, I persevered and eventually became the first woman to graduate with a Ph.D. from FIU’s engineering program.’’

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