May 2017


1.  DEVIN BENNAR, seventh grade, Brucie Ball Educational Center:

Devin was in a horrible accident on July 3, 2016. While riding in a golf cart with a neighbor and his siblings, their golf cart was struck by a car. While everyone else walked away from the crash with minor injuries, Devin’s injuries were life-threatening. He was airlifted to the hospital and managed to fight for his life. He hasn’t stopped fighting. Devin was left with severe brain damage and is now learning how to walk and regain many skills he once had. He was a gifted student attending a magnet program for photography prior to the accident. One of his biggest struggles is short term memory loss and he must work extra hard to retain new material. Doing simple math is a challenge. Every skill that is worked on one day is often forgotten by the next session. Instead of getting discouraged, Devin continues to work hard. Every morning when his teacher arrives at his house for class, he is already up in his bed reading or playing an educational game. He greets his teacher with a giant smile and constantly reminds that his favorite thing to do is smile. A few months ago, Devin was sharing how fast he was able solve a rubix cube prior to the accident. A few weeks later his teacher noticed he had several different styles of rubix cubes that he had been practicing with and had mastered each of them. Devin shows perseverance and doesn’t allow any of his setbacks to stop him. Over the course of his recovery, his shunt hasn’t been draining properly and fluid continues to build up in the brain. Due to this, he gets extra tired and his brain gets foggy making it difficult for him to work. He then must return to the hospital for more procedures. Currently Devin’s skull is beginning to cave in so he will undergo another surgery to have a prosthetic skull put into place. While he is nervous and does not want to go through another surgery, he is brave and still keeps moving forward. Even with these setbacks, Devin continues to keep trying, all with a smile. His siblings have not left his side and are his biggest supporters. Savannah, his oldest sister hopes to be an ER doctor one day and is the one that pulled Devin from the street after the accident and helped to clear his airways. Her fast-acting response is what probably saved his life. Devin’s brother, Shane, is enrolled in accelerated classes through Florida Virtual School this year choosing to stay home, not wanting to leave his brother’s side during this time. He was behind the golf cart and witnessed the accident. Finally, there is Bella who had to move Devin into her room so the hospital bed and equipment would fit. These children have put aside their own needs to allow Devin to receive the time and attention he needs. Lastly, this family has been held together by their amazing mother. She has not left Devin’s side while also caring for the needs of the other siblings. Through this tragedy they still hold on to their closeness as a family and find a way to integrate humor and love into everything they do. Through support and perseverance Devin has overcome the odds.

2.  SANDRA CARDONA, first grade, Gulfstream Elementary:

Sandra started both Kindergarten and first grade in a special education class speaking almost no English as well as facing additional challenges with her health. However, her academic, social, emotional, and independent skills have since then progressed tremendously. She has seen improvements in her self esteem and is a very giving, loving, gentle, compassionate, kind, and sincere student. Sandra’s determination and perseverance has inspired her teacher and strengthened her commitment to teaching special needs students. Sandra actively and energetically participates in all school activities, encouraging her friends and peers to join in. She is very popular in class and continues to be a positive role model with her diligent work ethic, active participation, verbal communication, and great behavior. Several peers look up to her like a “big sister” and they emulate her attitude, work, and behavior. She is very proud of her accomplishments. She shares school activities at home and home activities at school thus building the bridge between home and school. In February, Sandra proudly represented her school when she earned a Citizenship Award at School Board Chairman Dr. Feldman’s Town Hall Meeting. At her doctor’s appointments, she assists with English/Spanish translations between the doctors and her parents and her neurologist reports seeing tremendous growth in her. Sandra tells her friends that she misses them when they return after a sickness. Her bus driver, aide, and cafeteria staff all love her. At dismissal, when parents pick up their children, Sandra tells the parents good things that their child has done during the day. She thanks parents for bringing in snacks and treats. She is a young “Mary Poppins” who puts a smile on the faces of everyone she meets. Sandra’s positive attitude and honesty are magical. She is wise beyond her years and makes learning connections throughout her curriculum and her school day. Today she is able to write her name and color within boundaries. She knows her colors, speaks in sentences in English, is able to read the names of her peers, and she even sings in English throughout the school day. Her academic progress has truly been incredible. Sandra’s dedicated family support and love her unconditionally. They are her greatest cheerleaders providing the safety and security she needs at home so she can be successful and independent in the real world. Sandra exemplifies what it means to do the right thing!

3.  CAMILA ESPINOSA, twelfth grade, G. Holmes Braddock Senior High:

It takes a very mature and astute individual to decide when to break a confidence and pass on important information to a trusted professional. It is even more impressive when that person is a teenager. High school senior and a peer health educator in her school’s Health Information Project, Camila is one of those unique and caring young teenagers. When a freshman in her school approached Camila for advice with some very serious issues concerning substance abuse and other poor decisions, Camila was placed in a precarious position between confidentiality and helping to save this student from potential further harm. After many attempts urging the freshman to seek help were unsuccessful, Camila made the right choice to confide in a trusted adult, whom with Camila by her side the entire time, assisted the ninth grader in receiving the very necessary and life-saving counseling and treatment she most desperately needed. This process was long and arduous for Camila as there was much anger, resentment, and resistance by the freshman and her family. Throughout the difficulties that Camila experienced in this situation, she never gave up on doing the right thing for this troubled teen and for this reason Camila is very deserving of this recognition.

4.  KARLA GONZALEZ, twelfth grade, Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Senior High:

Back in April, Karla was on a Miami-Dade county bus on her way to school. She was holding her cell phone in her hand, wearing earbuds, and listening to music. When the bus stopped, a passenger on the bus snatched her cellphone out of her hand and ran off the bus. Karla exited the bus and attempted to chase the thief but lost sight of him and began to walk back to the closest bus stop. As she made her way back to the bus stop, she noticed the thief was now at the bus stop. Karla approached him and asked him to return her cellphone. He told her that he did not have the phone; however Karla was able to send a signal from her smartwatch to the cellphone, signaling that he did in fact have her phone. He then pushed Karla to the ground and knocked her belongings out of her hands. In the process of pushing her, he dropped her cellphone and ran away. Karla was able to recover her cellphone and boarded the next bus. She reported the incident immediately to the Miami Police Department. For her courage and use of proper judgment during the incident, she deserves to be recognized.

5.  OSATOHANMWEN ONAHINOR, twelfth grade, G. Holmes Braddock Senior:

Osato has been in the U.S. since the age of three. She comes from a single-parent household and has a younger sibling. Her father remained in Nigeria which has been very difficult for the entire family. Osato is a young lady that brightens a room with her beautiful smile, intelligence, and spirit. She has been part of the AICE Magnet Program since freshman year and works extremely hard within the community and school. Osato self-created a project to promote education in poor countries. She returned to her native country of Nigeria to provide school supplies and promote the importance of education. She will be a first-generation student attending Syracuse University in the Fall. She is a very humble student who wouldn’t ask for assistance even on those late nights leaving school to travel home on a metro bus. Osato should be honored for her determination to succeed and make the right choices. She didn’t fall into peer pressure, or allow for time to be wasted. Osato has had to overcome obstacles in life, but they have made her the mature young woman she is today.

6.  JAILYN OTERO, fourth grade, Coral Park Elementary:

Jailyn’s class was having a Mother’s Day celebration. Sadly, her friend’s mother had passed away and now lives with a grandparent. For the celebration, the students were to dress up for the event. Unfortunately, her friend did not have the money to purchase a dress to participate. Out of the kindness of her heart, Jailyn decided to buy her friend a dress so she could participate and look pretty. Jailyn did a beautiful gesture to make her friend feel special. Jailyn is a prime example of the compassion all students should exhibit.

7.  SEMAJ PACOULOUTE, fourth grade, Eneida Hartner Elementary, Rapids Water Park Trip Winner:

Recently one of Semaj’s closest friends secretly told her that other students were bullying her and that the names she was being called were making her feel like committing suicide. Semaj did not panic. She immediately advised her friend to stand up for herself and to get help from the counselor. Semaj explained to her friend that if she did nothing about it, it would only get worse and make her feel worse. Building up her friend’s courage, Semaj convinced her to seek help. She accompanied her friend to the counselor so she would not be scared or feel alone. Semaj is the definition of a true friend and a concerned citizen. She took action and not only made someone feel loved and accepted, but also gave someone the courage to fight against bullies. Her compassion may have saved her friend’s life. In addition to being a great friend, Semaj has always followed the rules in school. She is obedient and respectful, and she is a good role model to others. She is an avid reader, and leads her gifted class in achieving her Accelerated Reader Goal. She is also a member of the “Hartner Pep,” a dance and performing group put together by the music teacher, and has participated in school-wide activities like the Spelling Bee and After School Program, where she has stood out as a cooperative participant and displayed good sportsmanlike conduct. Semaj is a sweet and endearing child who has earned the trust and love of all of her peers and teachers. Semaj is surely destined for greatness!

8.  ARTHUR PEREZ, eighth grade, Hialeah Gardens Middle:

Arthur is a humble, responsible, and a caring young man. He has excelled academically and socially at his school. Arthur has had perfect attendance since Kindergarten, earned the Principal’s Honor Roll every grading period in middle school and is a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Throughout the years, Arthur has also immersed himself into many extracurricular activities such as joining the Symphonic Band for two years where he plays the alto sax, and becoming a member of the jazz band where he plays the tenor sax. Arthur has also been a member of the elite Drumline for the past three years where he plays lead snare, is a member of his school’s swim team, and for the past three years has also been a member of the DFYIT Club/Peer Counselors. Arthur has taken on a leadership role within his school by participating in countless community service projects within his school and in the community. At school he has done over 100 classroom presentations in the areas of mental health, acceptance and tolerance, drugs, alcohol, bullying, and cyber safety. For the past three years Arthur has participated yearly in the Live Like Bella Sock Hop and Walk at the school, as well as many other events to raise awareness for the homeless, breast cancer, suicide, and cystic fibrosis. Arthur has volunteered at Paws 2 Care, a non-profit agency which rescues dogs from high kill shelters by going on Sundays and bathing, walking, and playing with the dogs. Most recently Arthur participated in an interview at his school by Telemundo where nine peer counselors were interviewed on the topic of tolerance and acceptance. He has accomplished all of this while taking several rigorous high school courses. There are two driving forces behind Arthur. One is a life lesson that he learned early on with some personal family struggles which led to his parents’ divorce. The other is his mother’s ability to raise two young children on her own as a single mother. According to Arthur, he does what he does every single day to make his mom proud. For always doing the right thing for himself and those around him, Arthur is a Do The Right Thing winner.

9.  THALIA RODRIGUEZ, twelfth grade, Westland Hialeah Senior, Washington, D.C. Trip Winner:

Thalia is currently a senior enrolled in the Health Science Magnet program and is taking EKG and EMR courses to prepare her for a career as a firefighter and paramedic. She has been doing ride alongs with Hialeah Fire Rescue for the past two years. Little did she know how valuable this training would be in a real life crisis. On Sunday, May 7, 2017, Thalia was driving on I-75 and was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident involving Miami-Dade County Police Major Ricky Carter. She provided first aid to the injured officer and used a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from one of his injured legs. Thalia took his vitals and kept him calm until help arrived. Unbeknownst to her, the Hialeah Fire Rescue unit that arrived was the station she was headed to for her Sunday ride along. Thalia’s bravery and quick thinking was a culmination of everything she has learned. She is a selfless young lady that possibly saved the life of an officer that is respected in the community. For her courage in helping to save a life, she is a true inspiration to all.

10.  TAVARIS SHANNON, first grade, Colonial Drive Elementary:

Tavaris has struggled academically and with behavior for the past three years. He repeated Kindergarten and was recently diagnosed with severe ADHD. With the support from home, Tavaris has seen significant improvement in both his grades and his ability to cope with difficult situations. He has responded to classroom responsibilities like picking up paper from the floor and holding the door open for his class. Tavaris volunteers to wipe desks clean and turns off lights when everybody leaves the room. He is also in charge of turning off the screen with a remote. With new responsibilities also comes courage. When Tavaris noticed a classmate taking candy from his teacher’s desk, he reported the theft to his teacher. He is also glad to share his supplies with any student who is in need. While passing out textbooks, Tavaris noticed glasses on the floor and returned them to the student before they were almost stepped on. At home, Tavaris helps his mom clean and organize the refrigerator and the garage, organizes the kitchen when his mom is sleeping, is in charge of cleaning his bathroom, and rakes leaves for his grandmother. Tavaris wants to be of help to anyone wherever he goes. Last month, Tavaris and his grandmother were preparing for church when his grandmother’s fingers became locked in position and she was unable to finish getting ready for church. Fortunately Tavaris offered to help brush her hair and off they went. For his commitment to doing the right thing, Tavaris deserves to be honored.