Lema Gilliard, the daughter of educators, likes to say that teaching in in her blood, but her students want to know what's in the blood of the murder victim in her classroom. As the lead teacher in the BiomedicalAcademy at MAST of Homestead, her classroom is a four-year CSI lab. Where each semester students build on the one before and get closer to solving the reason the hypothetical person died.
The students are immersed into a hands-on real world scenarios where sometimes they have to experiment for their answers. Those experiments might end up in failure and having to restart the whole process, says Gilliard.
No spoilers will be revealed about the cause of death as it is fluid and Gilliard herself doesn't know the cause until just before the very end of the course.
"It's an honor to be recognized for the activities that I do on a day to day bases," she said. "To be recognized by my peers at MAST, and then of course on the county level."
Gilliard recently came a spot away from being named the Miami-Dade Teacher of the Year. Although her Principal Lisa Noffo beams at the thought of having the number 2 teacher in the county at her school.
This was an achievement Gilliard wouldn't have imagined when she was on the path to becoming a doctor.
"My career goal was becoming the first doctor in my family, a Pediatrician," she said on the application form for the award. Being a pediatrician was my dream for as long as I can remember, until my summer internship at the Medical University of South Carolina."
The clinical side of medicine was "too graphic" for her and so she continued to study biology until she had an opportunity to teach.
Which she took.
"I choose to being my teaching career," she said. "Initially I wasn't sure if teaching was for me , but I feel it was a calling."
She was always able to explain technical detail.
When the biomedical course began it was plausible that she would have the same students for the entirety of their high school career.
"They learn from the beginning the principals of Biomedical Science, then in 10th grade the Human Body Systems, in 11th grade we really dive into biotechnology-we create our own super bugs. Then in their senior year they have their own independent project. What do you want to discover?"
Gilliard says she is a facilitator, but the students themselves have to push themselves. Even when finding the answer becomes a slugfest.
"Of course we want the answers right away, but science isn't like that," she said. "They discover that sometimes failure is necessary to come up with that ah-ha moment."
She says it's good to see them grow, and know that if they didn't come in with a love of science they would soon gain it in her class.
Gilliard was recognized as the Miami-Dade County Science Teacher of the Year in 2015. She has also been named MAST Teacher of the Year for three in a row starting in 2012. And has a streak as the MAST Science Teacher of the Year that spans from 2011 to 2015.
MAST itself was named the #1 school in Florida by Newsweek, and was in the top 50 of the nation by the same publication.
But Gilliard credits the feathers in the cap that MAST has collected to the faculty who genuinely care.
"The Teachers are dedicated to making sure our students succeed, we work as a team. There is no one department doing this or that- it's literally all of us," she said.