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Recent high school grad making a difference, one orchid at a time

Jonathan Carcache’s video focused on orchids and plant conservation. Gathering everything he needed in just a week, he became one of the four SeaWorld Orlando scholarship winners.
Jonathan Carcache’s video focused on orchids and plant conservation. Gathering everything he needed in just a week, he became one of the four SeaWorld Orlando scholarship winners. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Jonathan Carcache is unlike most students at Barbara Goleman Senior High, or in Florida for that matter. Jonathan is one of four selected from hundreds of students throughout the state as winner of the 2017 SeaWorld Orlando Environmental Scholarship.

“I have been visiting SeaWorld since I was a little boy and always loved going back year after year, so having been chosen as a scholarship recipient has been a true honor,” Carcache said.

What makes Carcache, 18, stand out is not just his excellent grades, but his infatuation with the preservation of native plant species.

His journey began four years ago when he was a high school freshman. He, alongside one of his mentors, Camille Ciriano, Barbara Goleman’s Environmental Club sponsor, and Fred Matter, his biology teacher, began working on conservation projects through Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, known as the the Fairchild Challenge.

“He’s a very bright and a very curious student especially when it comes to plants, he’s also very, very passionate about orchids,” Ciriano said.

Carcache’s participation in the Fairchild Challenge included writing research papers on various topics and collecting data on orchids. He eventually did so many challenges he went on to participate on an activity called Environmental Immersion Day, in which students are taken to Fairchild and taught various things within the field of botany.

During the school year, he and student volunteers contributed in removing extensive amounts of oyster plants, which are invasive plants, from Barbara Goleman’s courtyard.

“I needed community service hours so the science teachers had this activity planned to clean up the spaces with invasive plants so I worked on that,” Carcache said. “The following week they had another event that dealt with planting native plants, so I signed up for that, too. So after that it just kind of took off.”

With a grant from the Audubon Society, Carcache and other students established a native plant and butterfly garden within Barbara Goleman’s campus, earning him three awards for his extensive four-year work on the garden. He’s also done experiments dealing with seed germination, plant propagation, and orchid restoration.

At the end of his sophomore year, Matter encouraged him to apply to a very competitive internship at Fairchild. Time passed and Carcache became a paid summer intern for Fairchild before his senior year. There, Carcache published a research paper on orchids and became involved in the Million Orchid Project.

“We were involved with the Orchid Propagation Program and we were trying to get a million orchids established in five years, so we had tiny orchids planted throughout campus and Jonathan came basically everyday over the summer to water them.” Matter said.

By the time his senior year came, Carcache became president of his school’s environmental club, where he taught students landscaping skills, encouraged them to continue preserving diverse plants, attracting pollinators and studying their interactions in their community.

“He wasn’t satisfied with just showing the students what plants to water he made sure they understood why we were watering them and why it was important and what the potential could be,” Matter said. “It became more than just fulfilling the club’s requirements but actually learning from it.”

Carcache’s determination was one that faculty and mentors heavily acknowledged.

“He has spent weekends, afterschool’s and countless days and hours planting and watering trees, beautifying the school. His parents have even gone to Homestead on weekends to bring plants over,” Barbara Goleman Vice Principal Robert Inza said.

“He revived the environmental club, we brought it back because of his interest and passion,” Inza said. “He’s leaving behind his legacy for other Goleman gators and the responsibility of taking care of the environment and the school.”

During his senior year, Inza told Carcache about the SeaWorld Environmental Scholarship. The requirements were to write some small paragraphs and create a video.

Carcache’s video focused on orchids and plant conservation. Gathering everything he needed in just a week, he became one of the four scholarship winners.

“What was very unique about Jonathan was that he is a botanist working on native plants and wants to help the ecosystem around the Miami area, which in turn helps the whole ecosystem such as the animals in the area. It was really amazing that he knew the impact that just the smallest plant would have on an area,” said Josh Kennedy, education department manager at SeaWorld.

“Jonathan’s was one of the only few projects over the years that really focuses on the plants and the ecosystem,” Kennedy said. “We were all really impressed with his focus on the plants.”

Carcache, who graduated from Goleman in June, says he plans to major in Biology and Environmental Science, first at Miami Dade College, then at Florida International University.

“At Miami Dade, I’m working at a STEM lab which is a micro propagation lab so I’m working at Fairchild and Miami Dade dealing mostly with orchids,” Carcache said. “I want to go into research and study these plants; I want to make an impact and I don’t want them to be forgotten about. I want to make a difference in the science community.”

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