For two summers and a winter break, Palmetto High School rising senior Alexis Garcia- Ruiz taught English to school children in Spain.
“I go to Spain over the summers. In Spain, you have to learn English. I help my aunt teach underprivileged kids for free.”
Both summers she worked ten hours a week for 10 weeks. She also went one winter break and expects to go back for the next winter break. She enjoyed working with the children. “It’s great, they get to spend time together and they do fun activities,” she says. “And they end up enjoying learning. It’s awesome to help them in their school and help them build friendships.” Her aunt lives in a rural area and sets up a summer camp at her house. Garcia-Ruiz says they teach them conversational English and the basics that will make their English classes in school easier. “We teach simple words and you build up from there,” she says. “I’m going back this winter. I didn’t go this summer.” There was a death in the family so they put off their annual visit to Spain, taking a family trip within the U.S. instead. “And now I’m helping my dad. He’s creating an app with friends of his,” she says. “His friends are in Spain and they need translation into English.” Garcia-Ruiz’s dad is from Spain. In fact, she lived there for several years before moving back to Miami, which is her mom’s hometown.
At Palmetto, Garcia-Ruiz is vice-president of the Gay Straight Alliance. “Last year we did canvassing in South Florida on the transgender bathroom rights bill,” she says. “We did some door knocking by Barry University to encourage a vote against the bill. They were trying to ban transgender people from using the bathrooms. We were trying to get votes against that.” She’s president of the Creative Writing Club. She loves to write and she loves puns. “My sophomore year I won a Scholastic Arts and Writing Gold Key,” she says. She was also nominated for the American Young Voices Award because she won the Gold Key. “I got to go to the ceremony at the Youth Fair,” she says. “That was the first time I read poetry to a crowd.”
Last summer, she attended a ten-day writing intensive at Sarah Lawrence College. “The teachers were amazing,” she says. “One of the teachers was writing a play. She gave us tips about that.” She’s also a member of the English Honor Society, the National Honor Society and Psychology Club. She was one of the Psychology Club members that put up posters for Mental Health Awareness Week. “That was a new club,” she says. “With Alliance, we worked with them a lot because we brought in speakers on mental health. We brought in a speaker who talked about gender identify.”
That event was held during lunch and geared for parents. “It can be helpful for a parent to understand,” she says. Garcia-Ruiz is on Palmetto’s bowling team. “It’s the first sport I’ve played and make me feel included,” she says. “I’ve played volleyball, but I was terrible. It was not a fun time. I joined the bowling team my sophomore year. Everyone’s so nice, they don’t care if you’re good or bad.” Garcia-Ruiz was nominated for a Hispanic National Merit Scholarship for my PSAT score. While her dream college is New York University, she’s also applying to Emory and Washington University in St. Louis for writing/journalism. She is interested in attending law school.
Palmetto High incoming senior Micaela Wenger has more than a thousand hours of community service in only three years of high school. She’s earned approximately 400 hours each summer by volunteering at Temple Beth Am with the nursery school and pre-K.
“This summer I have nursey but other years I switch between nursey and pre-K,” she says. “There are few two-year-olds but mostly three-year-olds.” The children are old enough they have stopped talking naps and they are starting to talk a lot.
“I always have loved working with kids,” she says. “I like this age group. I’m able to teach them things. I feel like I’m able to help them discover new things every day.” She plans to volunteer again next summer. Wenger also volunteers with Friendship Circle. She and a friend work with a nine-year-old child who has taught her how to be patient and deal with him when he gets over-excited. “He doesn’t have any friends. I feel like, he feels like I’m his friend,” she says. “We go to give his mom some time off. We can play outside and she can go to her room to her room and read.”
A few years ago, Wenger started her own community service project called Kick It Forward Miami. “I’ve collected over 1,000 pairs of soccer shoes,” she says. “I donate the equipment to the Chapman Partnership (for the Homeless) and my school’s soccer team.” Her brother plays soccer and has since he was about four. She attends his games and she noticed how quickly the player outgrew their equipment, including shoes. “I started it closer to the summer going into ninth grade,” she says. “Every year I’ve done it at the end of the year (starting around May). Usually at the beginning of summer, I would drive the donations to the shelter.” She donated cleats, soccer balls and goals to the Palmetto team but.
When Wenger goes to college, her brother will take over the project. Wenger knows the importance of sports equipment. She swam for nine years, participating on both a club team and the Palmetto team. Right now, she plans to continue swimming for Palmetto her senior season but it depends whether she has free time after applying for colleges and studying for the SAT. She specializes in the longer endurance events.
She did swim for the Gulliver Club team but she doesn’t have the time to continue club swimming. Wenger did row with the Miami Rowing Club for two years. Her team made it to the regional and state competitions. She’s still up in the air about continuing to row because going to practice took four hours out of each day. At school, she’s the managing editor of the school yearbook. She’s been on the staff since she was a sophomore, first as a staffer and then as the club editor. Yearbook takes much of her free time. To work on the yearbook, she stays after school two days a week for three hours. She’s also a member of the National Honor Society.
In college, she wants to major in child psychology. She’s unusual in that she wants to stay local for college. She wants to attend the University of Miami or Florida International University. However, she will also apply to the University of Maryland and the University of Delaware. “I have family that lives in Maryland,” she says. “Family is an important part of my life. All of my family in Miami lives within four blocks of each other.”
Incoming Palmetto High School senior Blake Rubenstein is a member of J-Serve, a Jewish organization that promotes good deeds by Jewish teens. The board is sponsored by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the members organize a major mitzvah project.
“Last year it was at FarmShare,” he says. “We took fresh fruits and vegetables and put them into baskets. These would be the fruits and vegetables that would be thrown away because they were either too big or misshaped for the grocery stores to sell, but they were still edible. We gave them to the underserved families.
Another major project that Rubenstein volunteers for is Achieve Miami. “Every other Saturday we go to Goulds Elementary and help our little buddies with their reading and writing skills,” he says. “I did it during the school year and a little bit last summer. I got a 100% attendance award, which I was pretty happy about. I’ve been doing it for almost three years.” The kids choose the mentors they work with. “The little buddies choose their big buddies each time, and if you have a kid that liked you the last time you had him, he’s likely to choose you again,” he says. “We help them read and write by choosing a book that’s in their reading level and ask them questions while they’re reading to make sure they know what’s going in the story. We get them to improve their reading and writing levels which makes both the big and little buddies feel accomplished.”
They also work on punctuation and grammar. In the coming school year, Rubinstein will serve as the managing editor of Palmetto’s print newspaper. “I’ve been in Newspaper since tenth grade,” he says. “I started off as a staff writer. And last year, I was the business manager.” As managing editor, he grades everyone on their work and ensures that the print edition goes out. He also writes poetry and had a poem published at TeenInk.com. “I submitted a poem about my dog that had died,” he says. “A day later, I got an email from that website. They said they were putting it on the front page of their website and that it was the best article of the day.” Next year he’ll be vice president of community service for the National Honor Society. “I have to find and advertise community service projects and communicate them to all the members of the society,” he says.
Rubenstein is active in two more clubs, the Spanish National Honor Society – he will be treasurer – and Model United Nations. Last year he took part in a three-day conference at the University of Florida. “I definitely want to go to more conferences and gain more experience,” he says. Rubenstein also participated in the Panthermun, a Model UN conference that Palmetto students organize for middle school Model UN members. This past school year, Rubenstein ran track for Palmetto. His events are the 400-meter and the 800-meter. His high school career has included winning the PTSA Outstanding Leadership Award as a junior. Now that he’s going to be a senior, he’s mulling his options for his future. He’s not sure if he wanted to be a lawyer or an entrepreneur. “This summer, I went on a program at USC where I took a course on business called “Exploring Entrepreneurship,” he says. Last summer, he did a semester at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. For college, he’s applying to USC, Michigan, the University of Florida, and more.