It was a celebration that included the top high school defensive lineman in the state who also happens to play piano and trombone; the No. 1 school superintendent in the country who enjoys cafecito from FIU’s Café Bustelo and a congresswoman who wrapped up a congressional conference call on Russia in order to attend.
Despite the many VIPs in the audience and on stage, the event Tuesday morning at Booker T. Washington Senior High School (BTW) in Overtown had one primary focus – the futures of more than 900 students at one of Miami-Dade County’s most historic high schools.
“I can’t think of anything more important happening in Miami-Dade County than what is happening at Booker T. Washington today,’’ said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.
Wilson joined FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg and BTW Principal William Aristide in announcing the launch of The Education Effect at Booker T., an expansion of the highly successful university community school partnership that began at Miami Northwestern Senior High School (MNW) in Liberty City in 2011.
“The Education Effect is the most transformational force of education reform in America today,’’ said Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, who was recently named the top superintendent in the U.S. “As Frederick Douglass said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.'”
Funded by a $1 million seed investment from The Lennar Foundation, The Education Effect at Booker T. Washington will focus on promoting 100 percent graduation, improving college and career readiness and increasing the engagement of parents and the community. Special emphasis will be placed on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), including enhancing the school’s existing Engineering Academy.
“This is an anchor institution that still has a destiny to fulfill,’’ Rosenberg said. “We are thrilled to be here and we want to continue to raise the bar of academic excellence that you all have set. And we refuse – as a public university – to shut the door of opportunity to any eligible student because of their zip code of residence.’’
Since The Education Effect began at MNW in Liberty City, the school has achieved its first-ever “A” grade, up from a historical “D/F” grade; graduation rates have increased from 64 percent to nearly 80 percent; and the percentage of students earning a 3.0 GPA or higher has increased from 15 percent to 45 percent.
Booker T. Washington Principal William Aristide, whose brother Wallace Aristide is the principal at Miami Northwestern, said he was so grateful that his school was chosen for The Education Effect expansion.
“You had many choices and you chose Booker T. Washington,’’ Aristide said. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. This partnership will help make this school even better than it is today.’’
“I grew up in Overtown and Liberty City, and Booker T. Washington has been that beacon for as long as I can remember,’’ she said. “This partnership with FIU, M-DCPS and Lennar will bring additional hope to our children. I know you will never give up on our children and our school.’’
“We have been involved for a long time in Overtown, and we have a lot to accomplish here,’’ Miller said. “Children are ready to learn. It is our job to enable them and to empower them.”
“Partnering with FIU will help our public schools move forward,’’ Miller added. “We are proud to be a partner in a program that ignites passion in our children.’’
FIU’s Vice President for Engagement Irma Becerra-Fernandez said The Education Effect is a centerpiece of the work the university does to impact the community, locally and globally.
“As we know, it takes a village to raise a child and this work requires a village of collaborators,’’ she said. “The Education Effect is a prime example of the mission of the Office of Engagement and the commitment of FIU to be a solutions center.’’
At the conclusion of the program, Booker T. Washington senior Chad Thomas played piano and trombone for the audience. His rendition of Amazing Grace got thunderous applause. In addition to playing nine instruments and being an A student, Thomas is the top defensive lineman in the state and has received athletic and academic scholarships from around the country.
Booker T. senior Liurys Alvarez told the audience of her plans to attend FIU, beginning this summer. A dancer in the performing arts club at BTW, she plans to pursue a degree in biology or social work.
“I am so grateful to FIU for this partnership that will help other students like me fulfill their dreams,’’ she said.