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Booker T. Washington Senior High introduces Education Effect

Students present STEM projects to White House advisor

Ashley Montgomery | 8/28/2014, 9 a.m.
Black students remain an underrepresented group in the astronomy profession. In an effort to increase interest among youth, Booker T. ...
The Education Effect is a university community school partnership between M-DCPS and FIU. Photo by Ashley Montgomery

Black students remain an underrepresented group in the astronomy profession. In an effort to increase interest among youth, Booker T. Washington Senior High’s 25-year-old planetarium received a major makeover thanks to the launch of the Education Effect, a university community school partnership between Florida International University (FIU) and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The planetarium initiative aims to provide more minority students a chance to study the stars, planets and constellations. Students who are a part of the new astronomy magnet program will earn credits that can transfer to institutions of higher learning  — something that has never been done in Miami-Dade County. The planetarium will also be used to enhance the existing engineering magnet.

David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans came to show his support for the endeavor last Thursday.

This was Johns’ first visit to the school and he had the opportunity to learn more about the efforts to boost student performance in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) subjects.

Johns was given a tour of the campus and the newly improved planetarium by Dr. James Webb, professor of physics and astronomy at FIU who oversees the Stocker AstroScience Center.

“The efforts of Principal William Aristide are not going unnoticed,” Johns expressed on his Twitter.  

Three seniors, Jewly Fleuristil, Milagro Cadiz and Lucia Solano presented their summer internship presentations to Johns, school board members and FIU administrators. The presentations showed their experiences in detail at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden Conservation and Horticulture Internship Program and the University of Miami JJ Vance Internship Program. Both programs successfully presented the young girls with challenges that allowed them to grow academically. The girls said they thanked a former teacher, Mr. Solomon from Booker T., who they said prepared them to meet the challenges.

“The biggest lesson I learned was to never second guess myself,” Fleuristil said. “I saw a broader picture while I was apart of the program and thanks to the engineering magnet, which gave me the foundation.”

Johns was given his current position earlier in the year to help decrease the educational gap for Black students. He is a former teacher who also served as an education policy advisor to the Senate.

“The efforts made through the Education Effect are remarkable,” Johns said. “Every visit I have is truly unforgettable.”

Dr. Donnie Hale, director of the Education Effect at Booker T. and Miami Northwestern Senior High was in attendance. In the final hour, he presented the audience with a video presentation on the planetarium.

The $1 million investment will include a “new high definition digital projector, with state-of-the-art sound and lighting that will ‘take students to the surface of Mars or even the bottom of the ocean’,” Webb said in a statement.

The planetarium is expected to open in September.