Silver Knight

Meet the 2015 Miami-Dade Silver Knight Award winners

Art: Jennifer Banegas, Miami Carol City Senior High School
Art: Jennifer Banegas, Miami Carol City Senior High School


Jennifer Banegas

Miami Carol City Senior High School

At Jennifer Banegas’ school, a budget squeeze cut out art altogether. So Jennifer single-handedly brought visual arts back to her school. She founded an art club where she teaches aspiring artists a new style of art each week. She partnered with her school’s band and dance troupes to put on showcases that marry performance with visual art, raise money for the clubs and spotlight talent. She also has promised her alma mater to come back each year for five years to help paint a mural with the art club’s future artisans.

Jennifer is the recipient of a President’s Volunteer Service Award and a member of the National Honor Society, and has competed in state-level Future Business Leaders of America competitions.

Honorable Mentions: Ariana Bueno, Ronald W. Reagan Doral Senior High School; Taylor Davis, Coral Reef Senior High School; Yekaterina Kaydash, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.


Waleed Mneimneh

Palmer Trinity School

Waleed Mneimneh champions two things above all else: tennis, and his autistic little brother. During his freshman year, he started his school’s first Autism Awareness Club, which works to promote inclusion for those with the disorder. But the club aims to do more than simply educate: The club’s annual Ace for Autism tennis tournament has raised $70,000 for the University of Miami’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, which provides critical support services to thousands of families affected by autism.

Waleed is a U.S. Tennis Association-ranked tennis player; a member of the National and Math honor societies; MVP for his school’s varsity tennis team; a Joe DiMaggio All-Star Team award winner; and the recipient of the youth fair’s Walter B. Arnold Hall of Fame award.

Honorable Mentions: Guy Fernandes, MAST Academy; Terry Lanard Jefferson, Booker T. Washington Senior High; Katherine Pfleger, Ransom Everglades School.


Joseph Corderi

Christopher Columbus High School

Joseph Corderi saw firsthand how hard it is to get back on your feet once you lose your home: When his best friend’s family was evicted, it took them more than three years to find stable housing. That’s why, besides donating his time building homes with Habitat for Humanity and raising money for the organization, he tapped his school’s alumni community and started Suit Up Miami. The program collects formal attire, has it washed and pressed, and donates the clothes to homeless shelters in hopes of getting employers to hire indigent applicants.

A founding member of his school’s FBLA chapter, Joseph is also an AP Scholar with Honor; a UC Berkeley National Debate Tournament winner; a National Honor Society tutor; and a volunteer with Shake-a-Leg Miami, the Humane Society and the Angel Tree Project.

Honorable Mentions: Ryan Amoils, Miami Country Day; Julian Lafaurie, Coral Reef Senior High School; George Ramirez, Coral Gables Senior High School.


Gabrielle Walden

Miami Beach Senior High School

Gabrielle Walden thought the morning announcements needed an update. Her idea? A student-run podcast, complete with music, public service announcements and community news. She secured a grant and set about recording, editing and mixing. In August 2014, iTide Radio went online.

Gabrielle was the recipient of the University of North Carolina’s Summer Film Institute’s awards for best sound design, best editing and best actress. Her video production work has been recognized by the YoungArts Foundation. She volunteers with the Surfrider Foundation, the Miami-Dade Baynanza and the Human Rights Campaign. She plays guitar for her school’s rock ensemble and won a commendation from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mentions: Kaylan Coke, Palmetto Senior High School; Santiago Gutierrez, School for Advanced Studies; Shirley Plotnik, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.


Connor Space

Miami Country Day School

Connor Space combines his love of the stage with a dedication to social justice. As an executive member of his school’s gay-straight alliance, he has led seminars and assemblies and recruited celebrity speakers to stoke discussion. With a classmate, he put on an anti-bullying play for audiences across South Florida. When his village council was considering a pro-marriage equality resolution, he addressed elected officials from the podium to lend his support. The resolution passed. Later, when his community held its first Unity Ball to celebrate diversity, he contributed 75 hours and recruited 25 other students to join him.

Off stage, Connor runs varsity cross country, plays junior varsity basketball, writes and publishes short stories and coaches children’s basketball.

Honorable Mentions: Katelyn Bourke, Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School; Iara Dircie, Coral Reef Senior High School; Laura Katz, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.


Carmen Sandino

American Senior High School

When Carmen Sandino asked her foster care agency about college options, she was told not to get her hopes up. Less than 3 percent of all foster kids receive a bachelor’s degree, she was told. So she found a tutoring service to tutor her for free. Equipped with information about the ACT, SAT and college applications, Carmen offered other foster kids tutoring and helped them through the college application and financial aid processes. Through her leadership, one student more than doubled her ACT score and received a $90,000 scholarship to her school of choice.

Carmen is the recipient of a Florida Youth SHINE Shining Star Award, president of her school’s HOSA club, the treasurer of the SECME club and the winner of her school’s outstanding mathematics student award for 2013.

Honorable Mentions: Nina Alvarado, Miami Southridge Senior High School; Andres Hidalgo, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School; Madison Ramirez, St. Brendan High School.


Nicholas Nava

School for Advanced Studies

For years, Nicholas Nava has dedicated his time mentoring middle school students at his church, tutoring underprivileged children, delivering food to the needy and playing guitar for Alzheimer’s patients at a nursing home. Last year, he focused on seniors who were lonely. He and fellow students whom he recruited began visiting a nursing home every other Saturday to play bingo with the residents.

Nicholas will graduate from high school with an associate’s college degree. He has earned straight A’s since freshman year, and serves as National Honor Society president and student body vice president. He is an AP Scholar. He received the Miami-Dade County Excellence in Citizenship award for District 7 and the Mayor’s Shining Scholars Pursuer of Excellence award.

Honorable Mentions: Yaretson Carmenate, Medical Academy for Science and Technology (MAST) at Homestead; Daniel Guberek, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Maia Suazo-Maler, Palmer Trinity School.


Joanne Ling

TERRA Environmental Research Institute

Joanne Ling believes the best journalism comes from a place of compassion — especially for those who are stigmatized and marginalized by an ill-informed public. That’s why she has connected her school’s gay-straight alliance with Broward House, a nonprofit providing housing and social services to HIV-positive individuals.

Joanne also has conducted HIV research as an intern with Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, placed first in the Florida Scholastic Press Association’s on-the-spot feature writing competition, and received an honorable mention in C-SPAN’s student documentary competition. She is editor-in-chief of the school paper and an AP Scholar with Honor.

Honorable Mentions: Gabriella Llano, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy; Angela Ortiz, School for Advanced Studies; Lina Zuluaga, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.


Sarah Roberts

Ransom Everglades School

Sarah Roberts knew she wanted to become a teacher, so she signed up for Breakthrough Miami, a nonprofit that pairs high school students with under-privileged middle and high school students in an eight-year academic enrichment program. She started tutoring Breakthrough participants in math and SAT prep, and with her water polo and swimming teammates, taught the students how to swim. With the help of her school’s Marine Awareness Club — of which she is president — she took them boating on Biscayne Bay. And using two years’ worth of her babysitting savings, she funded a $1,600 Breakthrough Scholarship for one year.

Sarah is an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Commended student. She volunteers with the Symphonettes, is president of the Honor Council and plays water polo.

Honorable Mentions: Esteban Gonzalez, Mater Academy; Joseph Levy, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Mira Meyers, Miami Carol City Senior High School.


Monica Tuñez

Coral Reef Senior High School

Monica Tuñez survived a childhood in an abusive household and beat all odds: She is in the top 1 percent of her class in the International Baccalaureate program, she is the flute section leader for her school’s band and a neurosurgery research intern with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Monica credits dance with giving her the strength and the joy that allowed her to survive and thrive. That’s why she teaches ballet and jazz classes to children at Glades Middle School and His House Children’s Home, a nonprofit that offers after-school programs to foster children.

Monica has been offered a Questbridge Scholarship to Yale University. She is an AP Scholar with Honor, and has received superior assessments for her piccolo and flute solos.

Honorable Mentions: Francoise Giraldo, iPreparatory Academy; Rafael Pimentel, School for Advanced Studies; Arianna Tapia, John A. Ferguson Senior High School.


Ana Olano

Ronald W. Reagan Doral Senior High

Convinced that lofty, challenging subjects like science and philosophy would have more recruits if they were only presented to young audiences in a fun way, Ana Olano visited elementary schools and summer camps disguised as a “mad scientist.’’ Wearing wonky goggles and a lab coat, she devised hands-on experiments with kids, from Newtonian fluids to clock reactions. She founded a philosophy lecture series and established a Hispanic engineering club in coordination with FIU’s engineering department.

When Ana is not attending the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics prestigious summer school program or conducting independent research work in theoretical physics, she’s singing in the choir or volunteering at a local nursing home.

Honorable Mentions: Leila Abdelrahman, Coral Reef Senior High School; Fabian Aristizabal, Mater Academy; Nicole Newman, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.


Claudio Martinez

Coral Reef Senior High School

Claudio Martinez is a senior in the International Baccalaureate program, a varsity wrestler and an Eagle Scout. He also has cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that can make movement, speech, and cognitive tasks more difficult. Knowing the challenges — and rewards — of achieving success despite a disability, he told his story for his Eagle Scout project to give parents of children with disabilities insight into the road ahead. Claudio volunteers as a physical therapy assistant for disabled patients and works with Diveheart, an organization that introduces the disabled to scuba diving.

An aspiring lawyer, Claudio participates in his school’s Model UN and debate clubs, was selected to be a writer for the Holocaust Impact Theatre and is an AP Scholar with Honor.

Honorable Mentions: Nicholas Caine, Miami Beach Senior High School; Briana Graham, Miami Carol City Senior High School; Angela Rodriguez, Hialeah Senior High School.


Christopher Penelas

MAST Academy

The grandchild of immigrants, Christopher Penelas grew up in a family that put a premium on civic engagement. He decided to tackle apathy among his peers, and partnered with Junior State of America, a national organization dedicated to student-led civic education. He founded a chapter at his school, and served as the JSA’s governor for the Southeastern United States. In that role, Christopher raised record scholarships, oversaw a dramatic expansion in chapters and organized a 200-member conference in November, with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, keynoting the event.

An AP Scholar with Distinction, Christopher was nominated to the U.S. Naval Academy, plays water polo and has maintained perfect attendance since kindergarten.

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Anderson, Christopher Columbus High School; Olivia Brown, Miami Carol City Senior High School; Parker Yagman, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.


Maite Iribarren

Design and Architecture Senior High School

Maite Iribarren has been going on biannual medical missions to the Dominican Republic since she was 12. For years, she labeled medical supplies, organized clothing drives and babysat children while their parents were being examined. Maite met Marilissa, a 2-year-old with cancer whose parents could not afford her needed surgery. So she decided to help raise funds for the procedure. She teamed with FIU’s Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum and the Foundation Order of Malta to set up an annual fundraiser that auctions student artwork.

An AP Scholar with Distinction, Maite has received a Gold Key for her jewelry designs, is a National YoungArts Design finalist, a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award and an American Red Cross Spectrum award winner.

Honorable Mentions: Aurora Izquierdo, Miami Senior High School; Joseph Maura, South Dade Senior High; Ariana Ramsundar, Palmetto Senior High School.


Aysha Habbaba

Coral Reef Senior High School

As a young Muslim woman, Aysha Habbaba knows that while diversity makes for a richer world, it can also often breed animosity and distrust. She has dedicated every Saturday for the past four years to teaching children Arabic and Islamic studies at her local mosque. Aysha co-developed an app with the Girls Who Code program that educates voters about the candidates and issues in their local elections. She has established a Muslim Student Union and Cultures club at her school — now topping 100 members — that promotes respect across cultures.

An AP Scholar with Distinction, a Future Business Leader of America public speaking state finalist, and a panelist with Student Voices, the countywide anti-bullying program, Aysha also volunteers with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and Read2Succeed.

Honorable Mentions: Luis Fernandez, Hialeah Gardens Senior High; Andrea Morales, South Dade Senior High; Dan Sicorsky, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.