As area students are now getting into a new month of in-person learning amidst a pandemic, one local high school is preparing a new crop of medical staff, at a time when they are so desperately needed, now more than ever.
At the Medical Academy for Science and Technology (MAST@Homestead), located at 1220 NW 1st Ave, students are learning about bio-medicine, pre-medicine, physical therapy, and pharmaceutical medicine.
Being the second medical Magnet High School in Florida, and one of only a handful in the nation, MAST@Homestead is the only magnet school in Miami-Dade County with a full pre-med program, and one of two that has a biomedical program, where students also get a lab certification after their four years.
Nichol Martinez -- MAST@ Homestead’s Admissions Director, Advanced Placement Coordinator, Lead Teacher, Senior Class Sponsor, and Internship Coordinator -- explained how these opportunities have helped students excel in their studies.
“We’ve had kids that have worked for the Florida CDC, we have kids that work in different vaccine research companies across the nation,” said Martinez. “It’s been super cool!”
While typical senior class students would intern in their last semester, due to COVID, this was unavailable to medical lockdowns.
As a result, Principal Lisa Noffo said MAST@Homestead initiated a seminar series with local and national medical professionals, as well as MAST@ Homestead alumni, who met with students through Zoom to talk about their careers, resulting in even better outcomes.
“Four students out of 173 graduates went to John Hopkins, in addition to other schools like FIU,” said Noffo.
MAST@Homestead students also have had an opportunity to work with a program at FIU to do summer research with a graduate research team.
Starting as early as sophomore year, once they’ve taken chemistry, students can qualify for the 8-week intensive internship program.
“We’ve had students that have been chosen through their research to present at conferences, not only with college students, but with graduate students,” said Noffo. “We’ve even had one or two published.”
As US News & World Report also released their high school ratings during this past summer, MAST@ Homestead rated in the top 15th for high schools in Miami Dade County, top 85 magnet schools in the nation; Newsweek named them one of the top 500 high schools in the nation.
But wait, there’s even more accolades.
MAST@Homestead ranks in the top two percent of Magnet Schools of America’s Schools of Excellence after receiving the award every year since 2015, were also awarded the College Success Gold Award for being the best among 1,700 schools, and just received the Platinum STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) designation for being the the top STEM High School within the Miami-Dade Public Schools, due to being a Gold STEM recipient for the past five years.
And with all these accomplishments, Noffo gives all the credit to her students.
“I’m a firm believer in these magnet programs that if you give them something to believe in, they're going to excel,” said Noffo.
As such, Noffo, Martinez, and the MAST@Homestead leadership team review their demographics and Miami-Dade County’s demographics annually, and compare them carefully in order to ask a critical question on how to find new students.
“How can we make sure that we are providing this opportunity to everyone?” said Martinez. “Minorities are already underrepresented in STEM, how can we make sure that we’re reaching everybody, and giving everybody an opportunity to get it: that’s a big deal for us, we don’t want to come off like we’re elitist.”
By doing so, US News & World Report also noted that the total minority enrollment for MAST@Homestead is 91%, with 69% of its students being economically disadvantaged.
Yet, in spite of the pandemic, students last year alone gained over 6 million in both needs-based and merit-based scholarships, something Martinez said was well-earned.
“When you put students into a program that they’re passionate about, they produce results, and they fight for what they want,” said Martinez.
With 71% of the students last year also taking part in the free/reduced lunch program at MAST@ Homestead also, Martinez sees how their academy offers these students a chance to truly shine.
“A lot of these students would have otherwise been considered at-risk by virtue of their socio-economic status, but they’re amazing,” said Martinez. “They’re passionate about what they want to do and they garner so much success in their different areas.”
Noffo also stated the integral importance of the community in the success of their student diversity.
“We have great buy-in from the district perspective, from the city of Homestead perspective, from the faculty perspective, to the students, to the parents,” Noffo said. “We feel that energy, it’s a good fit, and I feel we’re giving a good education to kids who may not have that opportunity to get a leg up.”
By starting in the seventh and eight grade, all the way up to North Miami, and working with the Miami Dade Public Schoold’s Office of School Choice and Parental Option, Martinez said their magnet recruitment season is from October 1 through to January 15.
Additionally, by supporting other STEM programs at local elementary schools through science fairs and clubs, MAST@Homestead gets fourth or fifth grade students there excited about science.
“One of my biggest driving things when I get to talk to students is: everybody can achieve this,” said Martinez, “it’s whether you’re passionate about it; making sure this isn’t just students who are wealthy and have access to resources, this is because we work together as a team and believe in the potential of our students.” said Martinez.
Whether taking writing classes, learning German, playing varsity sports, or completing their mandatory 150 hours of community service, students here are fully supplemented with numerous options, all while working in simulation and functional state-of-the-art labs, honing their medical skills.
“The goal is to give them all the tools, because they show time and time again that if you give them the right tools, they're going to do it,” said Noffo.
I had a chance to tour the school last week on “Fun Friday”, as students hung out with others while music played, and ping-pong tables were out for spirited matches -- I even got to check out a hula hoop contest!
Opportunities like these look to also provide these rising medical stars a chance to definitely enjoy themselves; and in doing so, offer this next wave of medical workers a chance to unwind.
“We want to ensure that our kids are getting the full high school experience, so we tell them: work hard, play hard,” said Noffo.