Black academic success among 2024 graduates | South Florida News

Black academic success among 2024 graduates | South Florida News

Whether dominating the basketball court, giving back to their community, or captivating audiences on stage, members of Miami-Dade County Public School’s graduating class — who began their high school journeys at the height of the pandemic — excel beyond the classroom. 

M-DCPS graduating seniors were offered a combined total of $606 million in scholarships.

The 2024 graduates, filled with young adults actively seeking ways to improve the world through volunteer work or prospective careers, have big aspirations and even bigger hearts. 

Joi Turner

Joi Turner, a senior at Miami Killian Senior High School poses with her diploma at a commencement ceremony on Monday.

Seven years ago, a 9-year-old Joi Turner began making home-cooked meals with the help of her mother for the hungry and homeless in her community. Enlisting the help of friends and family, the Miami Killian Senior High School graduate hosts bimonthly meal distributions from Richmond Heights to Homestead through her Delivering Joi nonprofit organization. 

Turner’s nonprofit was born out of a 5th-grade community service project and her realization that a neighbor’s disability and limited mobility posed a food-access challenge. 

“I saw a need not only to give back to those who are hungry and homeless but to give them something other than nonperishable items,” she said. “One thing I try to emphasize is that there is a difference between hungry and homeless. Hunger isn’t always seen.”

Turner says she managed to secure a sponsorship from herb manufacturing company Badia.

 “I’ve always had a love for cooking,” said Turner, who combined her passion for cooking and serving others. “I come from a family that loves to cook and I’ve mostly learned my recipes from them. A typical Joi meal comes with protein, a carb and a water bottle.”

Graduating class

Miami-Dade County Public Schools graduating class received $606 million in scholarship offers.

Ending the school year with a 4.8 weighted GPA and graduating high school at 16 years old, Turner is headed to Stetson University on a Presidential Scholarship with plans to major in pre-med and minor in marketing. 

But Turner, who was homeschooled from 8th through 11th grade, said she had reservations about returning to the public school setting her senior year. 

Turner diploma

Joi Turner walks across the stage to receive her diploma.

“I felt I wasn’t getting the best education that I could,” said Turner, explaining how she struggled to pay attention and learn in public school. “For my senior year, I wanted to see what a public school senior year would look like. I was a little skeptical because I was going back to the same place I left but I’ve met a lot of great teachers who helped me with math, which I considered my weakest subject.”

According to the National Home Education Research Institute, students who are homeschooled typically achieve test scores 15 to 25 percentile points higher in standardized academic achievement tests than public school students. 

Shecaria Knight

Shecaria Knight, a Miami Northwestern softball player and senior, poses in her uniform.

M-DCPS 2023 Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) scores, published recently by The Miami Times, showed that schools in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods had many more students scoring below grade level in math and reading, compared to students attending schools in more affluent communities. 

Turner says she’s only flourished during her senior year with the help of administrators and teachers she’s encountered at Killian. 

“I’ve had a taste of what college will be like, which is very different from being homeschooled,” she admitted. “I’m glad I switched back this year.”

Like Turner, Miami Northwestern Senior High School (MNW) graduate Shecaria Knight will too pursue a career in the health field at Florida State University. 

“I don’t only want to go into nursing to help people because, of course, that’s what every nurse does, but I see a different meaning behind it,” said Knight, who hopes to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. “I feel like nursing is a way of life and the heart of healthcare. Most healthcare providers, they’ll go in the room, ask questions, and then leave. But nurses are there 24/7, we’re their comfort and we have the most compassion out of most health care professions.”

Knight volunteer

Shecarria Knight, a Miami Northwestern senior, volunteers to read and lead activities with children for Achieve Miami on Saturdays. 

Through MNW’s medical magnet program, Knight obtained her Certified Nursing Assistant and EKG Technician certifications. 

“Most students, when they go into nursing programs, they only have their math, science and English courses but Northwestern gives you the nursing background that you need,” said Knight. “I know how to take blood pressure, do resperations and other basic nursing skills because we learn that in our CNA class. Each year, you progress onto something new. The program builds you a foundation and because of that I feel that I will do very well when I go to college.”

Outside of serving as the Achieve Miami and photography club presidents at school, Knight has volunteered with Faith in Florida to increase voter participation and education and assisted RJT Foundation Inc. in outreach efforts to counsel grieving families who have lost a child to violence. 

Knight spends her Saturdays reading and leading activities like slime-making classes for children at Jesse J. McCrary Jr. Elementary School as part of Achieve Miami’s Achieve Saturdays instruction program. Her commitment to community was recently recognized with the United Way Outstanding Youth Award. 

Owning the spotlight

Jamar James Howard

Jamar James Howard pictured at Breakthrough Miami.

Students Trison Wilson and Jamar James Howard are no different. They both earned full-tuition scholarships to attend a higher education institution. 

Wilson, a star athlete from Miami Norland Senior High School, will be attending Presbyterian College in South Carolina on a Division 1 basketball scholarship. 

Trison Wilson

Trison Wilson, Miami Norland basketball player and senior, pictured dribbling on the court.

“My whole 11th-grade summer, I was watching everyone else get scholarships. I was seeing my teammates do well and obviously I was cheering them on but I was patiently waiting on my own,” said Wilson, whose high school won its seventh state championship earlier this year. “So when I got the call, I let out a sigh of relief. This scholarship will be a big help because it will take the college payment burden off of my family because that was one of the biggest things they were worried about, but then I secured the full ride. It’s a big accomplishment for me.”

He maintained a 4.6 weighted GPA while juggling 5 a.m. practices, volunteering at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Julius Kids Inc., and being a member of the school’s prep magnet program, and art club. 

Watering garden

Miami Norland High School Senior Triston Wilson waters plants at his school’s garden.

“I hope to eventually create my own art studio with a peaceful environment where people can come in and paint with family and friends,” said Wilson, who since last summer has been mentoring a group of children and teaching them how to channel their creative side to cope with grief. 

Howard, the outgoing president of Coral Gables Senior High School’s theatre troupe, will attend Syracuse University on the Posse Foundation and Breakthrough Miami ‘Get There’ scholarships to study advertising. 

“What’s gotten me this far is my ambition and my drive,” said Howard. “I’ve had to learn a lot in my four years of high school. I lost both of my grandparents and my mom and siblings ended up moving to Vegas and I chose to stay in Miami because the opportunities were better for me here. I’m always striving for excellence and greatness.”

The Breakthrough Miami scholar says the program has been a tremendous resource, connecting him to internship opportunities, conferences and notable figures from various industries. Choosing to give back as a teaching fellow, he now teaches science in the summer.

Born for the spotlight, Howard is an avid actor, dancer and writer, appearing in many performances at his school, in addition to learning Italian. As a student at South Miami Middle School, he was a part of the orchestra program where he learned to play the violin. 

Read More