River Cities

Miami Springs High School junior class tours Florida colleges

A group of 55 11th-grade students from Miami Springs Senior High were granted a wonderful opportunity this month as they were taken to a total of four different colleges across the state of Florida. The University of Central Florida, University of Florida, and the University of South Florida were all destinations on this two-day, one-night all-expenses-paid road trip.

Principal Edward Smith, accompanied by five other chaperones, led the large ensemble of students as they paid a visit to each college. Smith began the annual road trip last year in order to allow students to experience what it would feel like to set foot on a college campus that they may have previously heard of or even dreamed of visiting.

The students who were chosen to go on this journey were first required to fill out an application and had to meet certain criteria, including a minimum GPA of 2.5, a passing score for FCAT reading and Algebra I EOC, and they had to have at least registered for the SAT or ACT. A clean record of no excessive absences, no referrals and no outdoor suspensions was also mandatory. In addition, a personal essay on why they should be chosen for the trip was required, along with three letters of recommendation.

The two-day excursion had longstanding benefits as it inspired these pupils to begin thinking about their futures and what choices would be best for them. “I believe that the students that participate in the trip can now actually see themselves at those colleges, where before they may not have thought it would be possible,” Smith said.

Students not only learned a lot about the universities and everything they had to offer, but also the extensive criteria that must be met in order to be accepted into each one. Although these requirements seemed a bit overwhelming at first, it made the juniors realize that their time spent in high school is a critical period in their lives and not just a few years when one can coast by and hope to get into one of the better universities.

For junior Sonya Brown, the experience was “very eye-opening. Everyone was doing their own thing in college; it was so independent. It showed me that I needed to step up and start focusing on what I really need to do in order to get to where I want to go.”

On the bus ride to each school, the kids were divided into four groups and each group was assigned a university for which they had to research facts and present a quick synopsis about it. Students were handed the microphone and spoke of the academic and sports programs offered, the admission requirements, and the cost of attendance, among other things.

The students also recognized that regardless of their economic standing, they would be able to afford these colleges through the vast amount of scholarships, grants and loans that are accessible to them.

Science teacher Jason Jackson was thrilled by the way the mind-set of students changed as they started to see the opportunities available to them and the fact that getting into all these schools is a very real possibility for them. “A lot of students feel that schools like FSU and UF are out of their financial reach because they come from families that maybe have a lower economic status” Jackson said, “but there really is money out there for those that work hard and get scholarships.”

Hearing from their older peers and seeing them so actively involved in campus life also influenced the way these 11th-graders considered college. “I saw people that had graduated from Miami Springs at the universities that we visited and that was motivating to me and the other students,” Jamie Dennis said.

One such alumna, Katherine Ceballos, daughter of English teacher and chaperone Isel Ceballos, spoke to the whole group of students at the University of Central Florida. As a part of the leadership program at this university called LEAD, she put together the whole tour and informational session in which she briefed the students on the school, what GPA is needed to get in, and the programs and opportunities that are available at that university.