When Jhayla Kirkland grows up, she wants to pursue a career that will cater to her love for science and math.
The Miami Gardens 10-year-old can’t pinpoint when she fell in love with the two subjects, but while a student at Carol City Elementary, “it just happened,” she said.
Jhayla, who just completed the fifth grade, recently won first place in the Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering national science essay contest.
“I was surprised I won,” she said. “I didn’t know my essay was the best one.”
In her essay, she writes about landing a career in mechanical engineering to create her own eco-friendly line of cars.
The cars would be called “Clarkson White” — instead “of using gas, all you have to use is white milk,” she wrote.
A fiercely independent student with an imaginative streak, Jhayla’s science coach at Carol City said she sets a positive example for her peers.
“Because she’s popular, the other kids follow after her and want to be like her. She encourages her classmates to be better,” said Karen Gant.
Jhayla’s sense of responsibility extends beyond academics.
“She found someone’s money at school. It was about $80, and she turned it in to make sure it got back to the owner,” Gant said.
At home, Jhayla said she was motivated by her mother, Tarrolyn Knowles-Tucker, a teacher at Country Club Middle School.
“My mom pushes me to do good. When I ask her how to do something, she tells me to try first,” Jhayla said. “I usually get it right.”
Also in her corner is her grandmother, Annie Knowles.
“I tell her don’t be afraid to ask questions, because then you won’t know what’s going on,” Knowles said.
Last month, Jhayla was honored by the Miami Gardens City Council for her achievements in science. By her side were her mother, grandmother and other family members who celebrated the moment with the future engineer.
Jhayla said some of her friends are not interested in science and math because they think it’s hard.
“Kids should keep trying and study if it’s hard for them. Or ask a teacher so they can get better at it,” she said. “When they find out it’s easy, they can enjoy it and have fun with it.”
When school opens in the fall, Jhayla will head to the sixth grade at Country Club. She said she is ready for new experiments and challenges.
But first, she has to complete her summer reading assigned by mom.
“My mom bought me a hundred-page book — it’s called The Candymakers, by Wendy Mass,” Jhayla said. “I like reading, too.”