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Apopka, Wekiva students win innovation and essay contests


From the Orange County Public Schools Newsroom

It started with an idea, grew into innovation, and finally well-deserved recognition for some very talented students at Apopka and Wekiva High Schools.

Orange County Public Schools has a vision to ensure every student has a promising and successful future, and with the support of families and the community, to create enriching and diverse pathways to lead students to success. Superintendent Dr. Barbara M. Jenkins developed the Minority Achievement Office (MAO) to support the fulfillment of this mission for all students, making sure there is a laser-like focus on equity and access for all students, ensuring that minority students, along with their counterparts, graduate ready to succeed in college and careers.

Out of this vision came the Minority Leadership Scholars (MLS) initiative to specifically empower young minorities to make significant contributions in their communities and to build a leadership pipeline from high schools to colleges and careers. This initiative operates at the school level so that the participation of minorities in leadership development and community outreach programs will increase.

It seems that Apopka's two high schools have taken that initiative to heart, and as a result, have student leaders busting out with innovative ideas to make a difference right in our community.

As part of the process of molding young leaders, the MLS’ initiative sponsored both an Innovation Competition and essay contest, hoping to see students' own ideas and detailed plans on what would benefit their communities. And these Minority Leadership Scholars rose to the occasion, showing that they were not just planning to be tomorrow's leaders, but are ready and willing to lead today!

In the Innovation Contest, participants investigated issues that impact their communities and developed an action plan to provide solutions. The four finalist teams then pitched their ideas virtually, due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The event provided teams an opportunity to interact with volunteer judges from institutions of higher learning, local educators and human resources.

Apopka High School’s team that included Johnny Simmons, Michaela Moss, Taylor Adams and John Latimer III, proposed reviving the Billie Dean Community Garden to increase access to healthier foods in our community. The South Apopka area suffers from an increasing poverty rate and lacks access to healthy foods. The students proposed partnering with Feed the Need of the 4 Roots Foundation, as well as the Big Potato Foundation, to provide free produce to community members. This initiative will primarily target the elderly, as well as students of Phillis Wheatley Elementary School.

“A healthier diet can reduce stress, help one focus better in school and lead to weight loss. Increasing one’s quality of life is what we want to do,” said Michaela Moss, Apopka High School sophomore.

The Apopka group cited how, earlier in the year, they had a community shoe giveaway and bike giveaway, but realized those items only go so far. To provide healthy foods to the community, and to teach others how to grow fruits and vegetables, will afford them the opportunity to have sustained nutrition.

The Apopka team's ideas for long-term sustainability earned them first place, receiving $1000 to further pursue their efforts. Cypress Creek won second place and received $750 to do the same. Evans High School came in third for its MAN Up summit, an event to help shape minority males to be better positioned to provide for their community and future families; and Wekiva High School received an Honorable Mention for its plan to address quality education within its community. Third place and the Honorable Mention received $350 and $150, respectively, to further their efforts. The Urban League of Central Florida generously donated the monetary awards.

In addition to the Innovation Competition, MLS sponsored an essay contest, “Fierce Urgency of Now.” This contest required students to address at least one historical event and compare it with a recent event to highlight progress, and then suggest paths or solutions to making a positive impact in the community and society. Contestants were able to use EverFi curriculum and/or current events in connection with more historical African American events to demonstrate where we, as a culture, need to learn, adapt and evolve so that, as a nation, we may progress. The four finalists: Trevor Owens, Winter Park HS; Nihkil Edouard, Wekiva HS; Kelsey Johnson, Evans HS; and Asher Lawson, Evans HS, were invited to the recorded Innovation Competition to read their essays. Awards went to Trevor, Nihkil, Kelsey and Asher, in respective first, second and third place and an honorable mention. Winners received a certificate from the MAO and Visa gift card courtesy of the Urban League of Central Florida.

The pride and excitement this event generated within the student participants exemplifies how the pandemic did not dim their compassion, but instead ignited their fire to succeed and assist others.

Congratulations Apopka High School and Wekiva High School student winners! You sure make us proud!

Apopka High School, Billie Dean Community Garden, community, Competition, Essay, Ideas, Innovation, Minorities, Minority Achievement Office, Minority Leadership Scholars, Orange County Public Schools, south apopka, wekiva high school, Winners