Silver Knight

Meet the 2014 Miami-Dade Silver Knight Award winners


Kaley Schwartz

New World School of the Arts

When her younger sister had to undergo open-heart surgery at 2, Kaley began volunteering with patients at the Child Life Department at Miami Children’s Hospital in the summer of 2012. As part of her project, Kaley suggested making hand-drawn portraits of the children in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Her idea was that parents might find some solace in taking home a simple image of their child, unencumbered by medical wires and tubes. In February, she expanded her partnership with the hospital and organized a gallery opening to sell student artwork as a fundraiser.

In addition, Kaley volunteers at Temple Beth Am, the Jill Mallory Dance Studio, and her school’s Key and Booster clubs. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the vice president of the Science and Art Honor Societies.

Honorable mentions: Aleksandra Maria Czarkowska, Dr. Michael M. Krop High School; Julian Straker, John A. Ferguson High School; Cecilia Morales, Booker T. Washington High.


Michael Joseph Sanchez

Christopher Columbus High School

Michael has been a lifelong traveler to Bimini and, as such, has befriended many of the Caribbean island’s residents — and learned first-hand of their harsh economic struggles. In 2012, Michael turned to Bimini’s local police chief for advice. He was told people often could not afford basic amenities such as school supplies. Since then, every summer, Michael has motored to the island in a boat filled with pens, paper, notebooks, pencils and dictionaries, all carefully packed into individual backpacks. Through garage sales, over the years, Michael and his friends have raised nearly $3,000 to buy supplies.

Michael also is a varsity baseball athlete and an outfielder with a .315 batting average. He excels off the field in Columbus’ accelerated academic program. He is a National Honor Society member and an AP Scholar. He also donates his time to the Down Syndrome Association of Miami and tutors his peers.

Honorable mentions: Jasmine Zephaniah Rose, Miami Central High School; Patricia Pinckombe, John A. Ferguson High School; Taryn Kristel d’Adesky, Miami Palmetto High School.


Ashley Gomez

Mater Academy

Ashley saw her parents struggling to make ends meet, and as a student at a Title I charter school — where 80 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch — she knew that many of her classmates faced the same economic hardships. Ashley figured an education in financial literacy could turn things around for her peers and their parents. She teamed them with her school’s FBLA chapter and Regions Bank, who partnered to host money management seminars. The organizations also offered participants free savings and checking accounts. Ashley and her team of volunteers keep up with participants to make sure they’re on track to meet their savings goals.

Ashley ranks among the top 2 percent in her class while taking numerous dual enrollment and AP classes. She has also won a series of business and leadership awards at the state and national level, a Congressional Award, a Student of the Year Award and a Brown Book Award. She also plays the piano and often gives free lessons to neighborhood kids.

Honorable mentions: Trevor Ray Nesse, Arthur Redden Work, Miami Killian High School; Angelique Hernandez, Coral Reef High School.


Andrew Briz

Christopher Columbus High School

Andrew has become a master at exceeding expectations. He started volunteering in Homestead at a center for migrant workers nearly four years ago and, at age 16, stepped in when the center let its technical director go for lack of funds. He did the job for no pay. Andrew tripled the center’s computer inventory by finding and refurbishing donated computers — then he outfitted the machines with language-learning, word processing and photo editing software. He taught language and multimedia classes and redesigned the center’s website. Under his stewardship, CCNN Live, his high school broadcast news network, started putting out such professional work that a local bank and international PR firm hired the team. That endeavor ultimately raised nearly $20,000 for the center.

Andrew has placed first in several statewide student journalism competitions as a member of award-winning CCNN Live. He is also a National Hispanic Merit and AP scholar.

Honorable mentions: Natalie Rose Calvo, Terra Environmental Research Institute; David Scherker, Coral Reef High School; Matthew Jay Cohen, Miami Country Day.


Michael Ortega

Christopher Columbus High School

Michael decided to put his nationally ranked debate skills to use by persuading an unlikely audience — his own school — to invest in a once-neglected theater program. In his sophomore year, he lobbied the Columbus administration to renovate a rundown media center and transform it into a 144-seat theater with new lights, sound equipment and prop rooms. As a junior, Michael was elected president of the drama club. By his senior year, the club was accepted into the International Thespian Honor Society and began competing internationally. As a result, his troupe’s updated profile has former “theater geek” critics asking Michael how they can join the program.

Michael is in his class’ top 3 percent in Columbus’ accelerated program, and he is an AP Scholar with Distinction. He also volunteers at Saint Timothy, Dante B. Fascell Elementary and the Chapman Partnership. Through Columbus’ debate team, Michael voluntarily coaches novice debaters across the county.

Honorable mentions: Mariana Barbara, Terra Environmental Research Institute; Blake Solomon Mars, Dr. Michael M. Krop High School; Brenda Milagros Chirinos, School for Advanced Studies.


Justice Collier

Robert Morgan Education Center

When Justice began tutoring a third-grader four years ago, she realized the student couldn’t read a word. She asked how he had advanced from grade to grade, and he told her that he’d just been “passed along.” Since then, Justice has spent more than 2,300 hours giving one-on-one attention at Sweet Vine, an after-school tutoring nonprofit that targets underprivileged kids in Florida City and Homestead. She helped change Sweet Vine’s programming to incorporate FCAT preparation. In December, the nonprofit named her Volunteer of the Year. Justice also tutors in math and social studies, but she most enjoys turning frustrated readers into literature lovers.

Justice volunteers at Goulds Church of Christ, is a member of Robert Morgan’s Rho Kappa club and Veterinary Society and sings in the school choir.

Honorable mentions: Michael Alexander Perez, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School; Robin Spatcher, Miami Southridge High School; Amanda Sage Gavcovich, Miami Country Day.


Ross Daniel Piper

Dr. Michael M. Krop High School

As a volunteer at the Miami Jewish Health System, Ross noticed that many seniors in assisted-living facilities can feel isolated from friends and family and the outside world. So Ross used his computer savvy to create South Florida SeniorTech, a program dedicated to educating seniors about technology — and its power to connect. He set up a school computer lab by securing donated computers and refurbishing the machines. Ross then offered free one-on-one and group seminars to teach seniors how to use the computers. The idea is that the residents can use the computers to research hobbies on the web, peruse Google Earth to visit old neighborhoods and use free video-chat services to connect to loved ones.

Ross has placed in competitions at the state, regional and national level in debate, science and math. He’s also done research in microbiology at the University of Florida and in arthritis at Aventura Hospital. He sits on the school board’s student services advisory committee. He is also a National Merit Semifinalist, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and the recipient of both the Rensselaer Medal and the Sunshine State Scholar Award.

Honorable mentions: Shiva Kangeyan, Archimedean Upper Conservatory; Cole Cameron Scanlon, Coral Gables High School; Hongyu Zhou, Coral Reef High School.


Clarissa Buch

Dr. Michael M. Krop High School

Clarissa understands that the most effective journalism doesn’t just cover the issues — it tells the stories of those who live the events. That’s why she went to Pridelines, a LGBTQ youth services organization in South Florida, to chronicle the experiences of Miami’s LGBTQ youth. She spent hours at the Pridelines drop-in center, talked to clients, learned their stories and gained their trust before conducting interviews from which she built a website to showcase their stories.

Clarissa is the two-year managing editor for her school newspaper, a National Honor Society member, an intern at Fort Lauderdale’s city magazine, and this academic year’s state chairwoman for the Florida Scholastic Press Association.

Honorable mentions: Lauren Bunce, Miami Palmetto High School; Miriam Singer, Coral Reef High School; Yessica Maltes, Miami Coral Park High School.


Luis Miguel Rodriguez

Mater Academy

Luis loves math. He’s always been a whiz at numbers, but there was a practical reason, too — math is free of the language and cultural barriers he encountered when he immigrated to America in the sixth grade. He adapted to the language and culture of Miami while in middle school, but not without some difficulty. So Luis started Bright Lights, a program to help middle school-students tackle reading in English. Together with peers, Luis travels to classrooms at his school to re-enact scenes from books and plays that younger students are having trouble grasping. He tutors language arts for children at the Haitian Youth Community Center.

Luis will be graduating with an associate’s degree through his school’s dual enrollment program. He is an AP Scholar with Distinction and has been on the principal’s honor roll for five consecutive years. Luis is the recipient of a Johnson and Wales book award, and he is Mater Academy’s Calculus Student of the Year.

Honorable mentions: Katherine Heldt, Miami Palmetto High School; Marie Snyder, Coral Gables High School; Sabina Osman, Miami Beach High School.


Daniel Torrents

South Miami High

While volunteering last summer with a Miami nonprofit that performs free hydrocephalus operations on children in Haiti, Daniel often brought along his percussion instruments and played them between surgeries to entertain recovering patients. When he left Haiti, he left his drum behind, promising to bring another. Upon his return home, Daniel started a campaign on a crowd-funding website and planned a fundraising event at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Filmmaker Sanjeev Chatterjee premiered a documentary on hydrocephalus in Haiti, and Jocelyn Borgella, the first Haitian NFL player, signed autographs. The website and event helped raise nearly $5,000 for medical supplies and musical instruments.

Daniel has won several distinctions at the state and district level for percussion. He is the percussion section leader and captain in his school band, a POSSE semi-finalist, the vice president of South Miami High’s math club, and a National Honor Society member.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Keandre Wynn-Strachan, Miami Arts Charter School; Alexis Michelle Magill, Coral Reef High School; Emily P. Rabinovich, Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School.


Mykaiesha Lorraine McCarthy

Miami Carol City High School

Mykaiesha was once considered “at-risk,” and she credits two things with getting her where she is today: compassion she received from family and teachers, and the boost in self-worth she felt when she started tutoring her classmates. She founded the Phoenix Project and partnered with the Johns Hopkins research group, Diplomas Now, and consulted with City Year to identify “at-risk” teens in the community. Mykaiesha then matched the teens with community service opportunities. She now follows the students’ progress and tracks their behavior, attendance and performance at school to see whether it improves.

Mykaiesha is a member of the National Honor Society, as well as the recipient of the Presidential Services Award and the Ronald Reagan Student Leader Award. She has earned her Certified Nursing Assistant License, electrocardiogram license and CPR license.

Honorable mentions: Jamie Odzer, Dr. Michael M. Krop High School; Omar Paez, Coral Reef High School; Sage Taylor Hewitt, Southwest Miami High School.


Susan Elizabeth Bean

Dr. Michael M. Krop High School

Susan’s story begins when she was just a few days old, a nameless newborn in a box, abandoned outside a post office in an eastern Chinese city. Six months later, she was adopted into a loving home. But she never stopped thinking of those who were left behind. So Susan started Uniting to Aid Children in Orphanages and in Foster Care, a project that raises money, collects goods and promotes awareness about the needs of children who are orphaned and in foster care. Susan raised more than $2,500 for the World Association for Children and Parents — the same agency that arranged her adoption. She also collected more than 3,000 books for The Children’s Home Society and Abriendo Puertos.

Susan is an AP Scholar with Distinction, the recipient of the 2013 Presidential Volunteer Service Award, and a quarter-finalist at the Sunvitational and Blue Key speech and debate tournaments.

Honorable mentions: Anyssa Chebbi, Coral Reef High School; Veronica Heredia, Hialeah Gardens High; Michael G. Lefkowitz, Gulliver Preparatory.


Brett Alexander Curtis

Dr. Michael M. Krop High School

Brett, Krop’s top debater, is accustomed to thinking through difficult policy problems. Here’s one: Brett started thinking about dropout rates and inequality and how those who are most vulnerable often lacked support. So Brett formed Transitions, a program that pairs at-risk youth as they enter high school with successful seniors. He developed a pilot program at Krop and coordinated with feeder middle schools to pair 100 incoming freshmen designated at-risk with incoming seniors with similar backgrounds. Through the program, these seniors tutor, but also aim to befriend and mentor the freshmen.

Brett is ranked best in state by the National Forensic League — a national speech and debate honor society — and in the top 50 nationally. He qualified as a finalist in several national debate competitions. He is a Blue Key debate tournament champion, an AP Scholar with Distinction and a finalist for the POSSE and Coca-Cola scholarships.

Honorable mentions: Jacob Stern, Ransom Everglades School; Kennedy Alexis Patlan, Coral Reef High School; Mia Spigelman, Miami Palmetto High School.


Mabel Amaya

Southwest Miami High School

When Mabel moved to the United States, she struggled to learn English. Her parents, struggling to make ends meet, had little time to help her with homework. So when Mabel started to succeed academically, she decided to give back to those who shared similar stories. Along with friends, Mabel offered free tutoring in a variety of subjects to students in elementary through high school and spread the word of their services via advertisements at school and online.

Mabel is an AP Scholar and an active member of Mu Alpha Theta and the National Honor Society. She is also her church’s translator and a first-place winner at the 2013 International Career Development Conference for DECA’s Virtual Business Retailing Challenge.

Honorable mentions: Brianna Sanders, Coral Reef High School; Aakriti Prasai, Terra Environmental Research Institute, Sukie Hernandez, Mater Academy.


Julie Goldstein

Ransom Everglades School

Julie has been a leading member of the countywide Symphonettes arts community service organization since her freshman year. During her two years as a Symphonettes executive, the organization has raised nearly $60,000 for cash-strapped music and arts programs throughout the county. The Symphonettes also usher at plays, concerts and symphonies and volunteer at arts festivals. Julie also has raised money for Bright Spirit, an organization that helps hospitalized children cope with anxiety and boredom.

Julie is an AP Scholar with Distinction, president of the Chinese Honor Society, and the recipient of a Brown University book award and a Red Cross Spectrum Award for Women. She competes — and regularly places in the top three — in statewide Chinese-language writing and reading competitions. She is also the captain of the Ransom girls’ cross-country team. She plans to attend Princeton University in the fall.

Honorable mentions: Ivette Prieto Castro, John A. Ferguson High School; Julia Decerega, Coral Reef High School; Michael Hammond, Coral Gables High School.