Op-Ed

SEED Miami is growing achievers

By MELANIE DAMIAN and DAVID LAWRENCE JR.

Lawrence
Lawrence

Doctors, judges, graphic designers and a shared vision of college graduation: These were just a few of the dreams that dozens of middle schoolers shared recently in Miami Gardens. These very special sixth graders from across South Florida are students at The SEED School of Miami, Florida’s public, college-preparatory boarding school.

During the ceremony, hundreds of family members, friends, faculty and supporters in the audience learned about SEED Miami’s holistic educational model and the sixth graders’ ambitious dreams.

Educators and legislators have long known that children need both a great education and a secure and nurturing environment to ensure their future success. Countless attempts have been made to provide underserved kids with “wrap-around” resources, including mentors, role models and a challenging curriculum. The SEED School of Miami provides all of these services under one roof, offering cohesive 24-hour support and rigorous academics in a close-knit, boarding community at no cost to families.

SEED Miami’s eligibility criteria ensure that these wrap-around services are provided to the students who need SEED most. Students must meet specific at-risk factors, including coming from a family whose income is below a certain ceiling. One-third of SEED Miami spots are reserved for students receiving services from the child-welfare system. For many of our students, SEED is the first vital step to turn the dream of college into a reality.

The recent event was only the second Dream ceremony for The SEED School of Miami, which opened in August 2014. However, the school itself is the culmination of a decade of dreaming and hard work. In 2004, Melanie Damian and Virginia Emmons — sisters, local child advocates and the founders of Educate Tomorrow — heard about The SEED School of Washington, D.C. The original SEED school, which was established in 1998 by Raj Vinnakota and Eric Adler, already was achieving tremendous results; its success would enable the founding of a second SEED school in Baltimore, Maryland in 2008. Local advocates knew that this was the “wrap-around” service South Florida students needed, and they have fought tirelessly for SEED Miami ever since.

The dream of bringing SEED to South Florida began to take root in 2011, when the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 404, allowing for the creation of Florida’s first public boarding-school program. After a competitive application process, SEED was selected.

Another critical part of the dream came into place when Roslyn Artis, president of Florida Memorial University, gave SEED Miami its first home, offering students invaluable exposure to a collegiate environment. Support for SEED Miami has been nothing less than inspirational, with significant investments from community leaders such as Tia Diaz-Balart, Bob Dickinson, Nancy Hector, Manny Medina, Debra Braman Wechsler, Judges Michael Hanzman and Cindy Lederman and others.

SEED Miami students from across South Florida now are following in the footsteps of the SEED graduates who came before them — graduates who enroll in college at a rate of 91 percent and who earn bachelor’s degrees at four and a half times the rate of the nation’s lowest-income quartile students. If the nation’s SEED graduates — the overwhelming majority of whom are first-generation college students - can do it, our SEED Miami students can do it. And they’re on their way; despite enrolling two to three grade levels behind, on average, our sixth graders grew an average of two grade levels in one academic year. That is the work of which dreams are made.

Additional sweat, determination and hard work are still needed to fully realize the dream of SEED Miami, however. Supporters will need to unite to help the school build its permanent home as it grows to serve 400 students and outgrows its space at FMU. Floridians need to direct the Legislature to maintain its public funding commitment so that SEED Miami can continue to provide quality, comprehensive services to all SEED students. And every one of us in South Florida — who will benefit from having SEED graduates in our community — need to rally around The SEED School of Miami now to ensure its continued stability.

By their very nature, dreams are about ideas that are ahead of their time, waiting to be fulfilled. SEED is a dream for South Florida, but we hope that it is not one ahead of its time. It should be a dream that is realized for our most vulnerable children — our future doctors, lawyers, and college graduates, who don’t have time to wait.

For more information about how you can get involved, visit www.miami.seed

school.org.

Melanie Damian is co-founder, Damian & Valori, LLP, is member of SEED Miami’s board of trustees. David Lawrence Jr. is president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation.

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