Rebecca Joseph immigrated to the United States from Haiti when she was 3.
Tavares Kidd is captain of his school soccer team.
Andrea Ramsay is the first person in her family to attend college.
Despite their differences, these North Miami Senior High School students and the other 35 in the school’s International Baccalaureate program share a similarity: They want to secure the best possible future for themselves and their households.
“I want a better life for my family,” said Andrea, 17, the youngest of six children, on why she chose to enter the program.
According to Larry Jurrist, coordinator of the four-year program, 34 of its graduating seniors are on free or reduced-price lunch. All of them, Jurrist said, are members of a minority group — blacks from the United States or the Caribbean, Hispanics and some Filipinos.
But more importantly, he said, all 38 have been accepted by some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country including the University of Florida, Howard, Duke, Dartmouth, Cornell, Emory and even Harvard.
“UF is very hard to get into now,” Jurrist said. “It used to be a ‘safe school.’ ”
Andrea, who said she is leaning towards attending UF, was 6 when her mother died. She said her father is medically disabled and has to take very expensive medication.
“Without them, he would be gone like my mom,” Andrea said.
She said her father’s situation inspired her choice of major — healthcare administration with a minor in creative writing.
“I want to be able to write policy to help people on low income with their healthcare,” she said.
Mahir Talukder, 17, occasionally helps his family run their restaurant in North Miami Beach on weekends. He was accepted by Florida International University, but because he wants to experience life on his own, he said he will most likely go to Penn State, which also accepted him.
Jurrist said that what helped the students is their IB test results are compared internationally and that colleges prefer the curriculum of IB programs because their courses are the hardest and are standardized.
By contrast, “an honors class could be good in one school but OK in another,” he said.
He also said that because students have to apply to get into IB, the level of involvement between the students and their parents is higher than with regular classes.
“We have to choose them, and they have to chose us so we don’t get that ‘well I didn’t want to be here’ attitude from students,” Jurrist said.
If the students are awarded an IB diploma, they are entitled to a Bright Futures scholarship regardless of their SAT or ACT score.
Rebecca, 17, emigrated to the United States when she was 3. She lives with her mother, who is a nurse but doesn’t work consistently, she said.
She said that sometimes her job at Abercrombie Kids interferes with school, but she is able to manage her time, which includes being the president of two school clubs.
“I didn’t go to high school to be invisible,” Rebecca said. She’s trying to decide between the University of Central Florida or Howard University.
Kidd and Michael Ivory, both 18, also have Howard at the top of their list.
“As a black student, I feel obliged to support black institutions,” said Ivory, 18. “A lot of them are underrated, and I want to build upon the legacy of greatness at those schools.”
Ivory is on the Miami-Dade County Commission’s youth advisory board, with the recommendation of North Miami Principal Michael Lewis.
“Whenever someone represents North Miami Senior, I always make sure they exhibit the qualities of a high-quality individual, and Michael definitely possesses that,” Lewis said. “He’s a witty and smart young man.”
Ivory has a 7.0 grade point average, according to Jurrist, and is among the top three students in the program. Ivory said he intends to major in economics and international relations, not only because he loves numbers but because he enjoys discovering what they mean.
“There’s a strong possibility of me being in government,” Ivory said. “I’ve been to Tallahassee and D.C. to talk about issues pertaining to youth.”
The North Miami baccalaureate program accepts students from throughout the county.
Kidd, who made the All-Dade soccer team and is vice president of his school’s National Honor Society, lives in Miami Gardens with his parents. They came to the United States from Jamaica in the late 1980s.
Although he hopes to continue playing soccer at Howard, he said his priority is academics.
“I’m keeping an open mind, and if doors open for me in soccer, I’ll go that way. But I’m leaning more towards electrical engineering,” Kidd said.
Andrea, the first-generation student, said she sees herself as a role model.
“I want to be an example that it’s never too late to want more for yourself and to go to college.”
Going to college and receiving a bachelor’s degree is a key step in moving up the economic ladder, according to Erin Currier, director of the mobility project at Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
“People who have that are significantly more likely to leave the bottom and three times more likely to make it to the top,” Currier said. “Post-secondary education is a critical driver of upward mobility.”