Christopher Columbus High School
When a fire burned down his home in fourth grade, Cesar Santalo drew and drew and discovered the healing power of art. After playing basketball all his life but not making the team his sophomore year, he founded “Young Explorers of Art” to bring students together to share art around them in museums and galleries.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
He also started playing golf and he volunteered with The First Tee Miami to help young players learn the game and life skills. An AP and Honors student, he is founder and president of the Art Honor Society and a campus ministry leader. He volunteers for Liga Contra el Cancer and is active in Squires service club, Student Council and the Roller Hockey Team.
Honorable Mentions: Allison Bouganim, Design and Architecture Senior High School; Maria Mercado, St. Brendan High School; Gaelle Augustin, Miami Edison Senior High School.
Christopher Columbus High School
A 200-page research thesis for the Mas Scholar program became the foundation of PlaySmart, StaySmart, founded by William Reis, president and CEO of the nonprofit. The group educates student athletes and their parents about concussions. He has raised $40,000 and the organization partners with the University of Miami Concussion Program, the Florida High School Athletic Association and the University of Tampa. As a result of the group’s work, Florida student athletes must take a concussion education course.
He is an academic All-American and captain of the varsity lacrosse team. He is an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist, and he received the Yale University National Student Leadership Conference Pre‐Law Studies Best Witness and Best Attorney awards.
Honorable Mentions: Justin Lee, TERRA Environmental Research Institute; Namilla Sanchez, Gulliver Preparatory; Pedro Castillo, John A. Ferguson Senior High School.
Christopher Columbus High School
As a former foster teen removed from an abusive, drug-addicted mother, Joshua Fonseca found a way to heal himself by helping other foster students at His House Children’s Home. He also leads retreats through his school’s campus ministry program.
He is founder and president of “Investors of Tomorrow,” which he started after interning with TotalBank. He started “Hand It Down” to collect used uniforms for students who cannot afford them. He is president of the Science National Honors Society and volunteers through the National Honor Society.
Honorable Mentions: Yanisbel Ruiz, Mater Academy; Justin Madison, iPreparatory Academy; Claudia Ferrero, South Miami Senior High School.
DIGITAL & INTERACTIVE MEDIA
St. Brendan High School
Believing education should be available for free to everyone is the quest of Alejandrina Gonzalez-Reyes. As a recent immigrant from Mexico, she came to the U.S. knowing little English and not a bit about programming. A field trip to a coding class got her started. By teaching herself, she developed the educational resources app Bozeman Science, which is part of the curriculum at schools from the Middle East to Asia.
She was an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Scholar 2015. She was invited to Harvard University’s WECode National Conference and the Yahoo Mobile Developer Conference. She is an AP Scholar active in the National, Spanish and Business Honor Societies. As a triathlete, she has completed five Miami Marathons and placed first in the 2015 South Florida Triathlon.
Honorable Mentions: Samanta Carias, Hialeah Senior High School; Alecsys Proctor-Turner, Miami Killian Senior High School; Mercy Perez, TERRA Environmental Research Institute.
Coral Reef High School
As a passionate theater student for 12 years, Stephanie Hernandez has learned to express herself on stage. Wanting all children to find that confidence, she started a nonprofit, On My Way Children’s Theater, to teach English to Spanish-speakers through theater. She teaches classes to kids at Camillus House Homestead and then branched out to Lima, Peru, where she taught 56 children in one of the poorest neighborhood schools. She introduced her students to performance and English.
An AP and dual enrollment class student, she is in National, Spanish, Tri‐Music, Social Studies, International Thespian and Quill and Scroll Honor Societies.
Honorable Mentions: Victoria Louisdhon, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Angelique Archer, TERRA Environmental Research Institute; Damian Dawson, Mater Performing Arts and Entertainment Academy.
ENGLISH & LITERATURE
Coral Reef High School
Telling the stories of prejudice are at the core of “Fabula Rasa,” a video project founded by Salma Abdelrahman. She helps bring to light many dark experiences, including Islamophobia, homophobia, body shaming, racism and sexual harassment. She was bullied in middle school because she wore a hijab.
She is a writer, producer and director of Holocaust Impact Theater. She is youth commissioner with Miami-Dade County Youth Commission. She is president of Model United Nations and is vice president of the Muslim Student Union, a club she helped found in her freshman year. An AP Scholar with Distinction, she was chosen for the Bank of America Student Leaders Program and accepted to Harvard University.
Honorable Mentions: Maribel Corona-Villa, Robert Morgan Educational Center; Owen Zighelboim, Ransom Everglades School; Jasmine Houston-Rosado, Miami Killian Senior High School.
School for Advanced Studies
Maria Acosta aspires to a missionary doctor, helping people in impoverished countries throughout the world. Her stellar grades, scores and service should take her there. But because she came to this country from Colombia before she was 16, she cannot leave the country for fear of deportation.
To pursue her passion, she founded the Salt and Light Project to collect clothing, hygiene materials and school supplies for impoverished families in seven developing countries and low-income communities in South Florida. Partnering with three schools, the University of Miami and Baptist Hospital, her group has collected more than 3,200 donations. She will attend Princeton University with a full QuestBridge scholarship. She will graduate with an associate’s degree from Miami Dade College before she graduates from high school and is in the college honor society Phi Theta Kappa.
Honorable Mentions: Nicole Stallings-Blanche, Design and Architecture Senior High School; Arielle Johnson, Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts; Isabel Gonzalez, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy.
Hialeah High School
If there is a way to help others, Susette Onate is there. Her list of service includes walks, runs and marathons for Parkinson’s research, breast cancer awareness, Support Our Troops, Farm Share, Alzheimer’s and Autism. She worked with a local children’s home, organizing 30 National Honor Society members to collect toys for all of the home’s children, delivered them, then served up a big barbecue.
She has had perfect attendance since kindergarten. When she entered high school she found the student newspaper lacking and invigorated it. She was named editor in chief her freshman year and has continued in that role. An AP Scholar with Distinction, she has tutored underachieving students for four years and has mentored another National Honor Society member to take over the holiday events at the children’s home next year.
Honorable Mentions: Chedeline Apollon, North Miami Beach Senior High School; Elizabeth Losada, Southwest Miami Senior High School; Kandis Philord, iPreparatory Academy.
Two years ago, Maria Mejia attended the first Girls Who Code summer immersion program in Miami, where she invented a facial recognition security app. Since then, she started a Girls Who Code club at school, which has expanded each year. She jumped into robotics, and the team moved up in competition to win a 3D printer. Last summer, she won a scholarship for MIT’s program for minorities by working with underwater robotics. To ensure all girls can learn to code, she assists the programming director of CODeLLA with classes at Centro Mater after-care to teach the basics of HTML and CSS to Latinas ages 9‐12.
An AP Scholar, she was an intern with Venture Hive, a tech startup incubator. She won Gov. Rick Scott’s Young Entrepreneur Award and is a National Center for Women In Technology Award winner.
Honorable Mentions: Christina Cruz, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart; Saige Drecksler, Miami Coral Park Senior High School; Logan Kraus, Miami Palmetto Senior High School.
MUSIC & DANCE
School of Advanced Studies
A chance selection to be part of the strings class in his elementary school changed the life of Santiago Tobar, who came to the U.S. from Colombia when he was 6. He made it his mission to help other boys and girls like him tap music as a way out of poverty. He started “Miami’s Young Mozarts” as a freshman to teach violin and music theory to low-income, minority and disabled youth.
As an AP and dual enrollment student, Santiago, in the National Honor Society, will graduate with an associate’s degree from Miami Dade College before he receives his high school diploma. Last summer, he traveled to Beijing International Chinese College on full scholarship to study Mandarin. He is one of 36 students in the U.S. and its territories to receive the 2015 Alexander Hamilton Scholar Award. He will attend Columbia University for Economics and the Juilliard School for Music on a full QuestBridge scholarship.
Honorable Mentions: Joseph Chica, Christopher Columbus High School; Ross Rosen, Miami Palmetto Senior High School; Kayla Saintagne, Booker T. Washington Senior High.
Palmetto Senior High School
As a seventh-grader, Kayla Spigelman founded Trick or Treat Food to Eat by rallying a few middle school friends to collect canned food on Halloween instead of candy. Today, the group has more than 1,000 teens and has raised more than $3,500. The food and funds go to Feeding South Florida and the JCS Kosher Food Bank, which have provided more than 21,000 meals through her program.
Since 2011, she has been a University of Miami Biology Lab Student volunteer who was selected to head a cloning research project. The AP Scholar with Distinction won a Brandeis Book Award, is active in the Science and National Honor Societies and with five other students has nurtured 240 orchids for The Million Orchid Project.
Honorable Mentions: Adam Block, Palmer Trinity School; Jennifer Leight, Ransom Everglades School; James O’Connor, Christopher Columbus High School.
Carol City Senior High
Chrishera Smith saw voter apathy in Miami Gardens and decided to do something about it. She founded “Project Power Up The Voice” to educate students about politics and the importance of voting and to increase the number of registered young voters. She has spent thousands of hours going classroom to classroom, holding assemblies and promoting voter participation.
Through the National Honor Society, she holds food and clothing drives and raises funds for veterans. She was president of the Math National Honor Society and is in Future Business Leaders of America. She is an Honors, AP, and dual enrollment course student who received the Ronald Reagan Student Leader Award and the Obama Service Award Medal. Her essay about standing up to silence through pacifism came in eighth place of 600 in The Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. She worked in the biology lab at the University of Miami Summer Research Institute and completed the Howard Hughes Medical Institute High School Scholars Program.
Honorable Mentions: Valeria Hansen, Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School; Kelsey Milian, Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High School; Vanessa Hilaire, William H. Turner Technical Arts High School.
Christopher Columbus High School
Playing and winning at football was a thrill for Noah Lopez, especially when opponents saw the student covering them had a left arm that ended below the elbow. When a severe fracture of that arm ended sports activities in his freshman year, Noah poured his energy into speech and debate. He founded “Helping Hands” to assist disabled students so that they could participate in extracurricular events, with a focus on speech and debate.
He is a National Speech and Debate Association Academic All‐American and has been a winner, finalist or semifinalist at tournaments for Yale Invitational, University of Florida Blue Key and Nova Southeastern University. He recorded a perfect score in every round against students from around the world at the UC Berkeley California Invitational. He is in the National, Spanish and English Honor Societies and Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society. He will attend Johns Hopkins University.
Honorable Mentions: Elias Rosenfeld, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Darryka Frederick, Medical Academy for Science and Technology (M.A.S.T.) at Homestead; Michael Cairo, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.
Mater Lakes Academy
It was difficult when her little student, Adrian, was diagnosed with autism. Sabrina Gonzalez had grown close to the boy through her Early Childhood Education Program. His family had to change schools to get Adrian the attention he deserved, but with twins on the way, they could not afford tuition at the new school. Sabrina started a nonprofit organization, HEROES, Inc., which has raised more than $7,000 to help families affected by the autism spectrum.
She is Class of 2016 President and is active in Key Club, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Future Business Leaders of America, and Diamond Girls. She is an Honors, AP, and Miami Dade College dual enrollment student. She is in the National and Spanish National Honor Societies and Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society.
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Vasquez, Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High; Carolina Miranda, Miami Palmetto Senior High School; Xavier Miranda, William H. Turner Technical Arts High School.
Gulliver Preparatory School
Andrew Boas has made it his mission to learn as many languages as possible. He speaks English, Spanish, Italian, French, Catalan, Portuguese, Ladino, Mandarin Chinese, Hebrew, Dutch, Japanese, Latin, Attic Greek and Florentine dialect. He has been ambassador to the World Languages Department since his sophomore year.
In 2013, he became the first high school intern at Societa’ Dante Alighieri — Miami/Puerto Rico. He is president of the Chinese, Italian and Spanish Honor Societies and is in Math Honor Society. At Model United Nations, he received “Best Mandarin Chinese Speaker Award” at Columbia University and “Outstanding Delegate Award” at Stanford University. He received the AP Scholar with Distinction Award, and the University of Virginia Book Award for Excellence in World Languages.
Honorable Mentions: Dinora Orozco, South Dade Senior High School; Viangely Asencio, Coral Gables Senior High School; Faizah Zafar, Robert Morgan Educational Center.