Miami Palmetto High School senior Anna Marchus recently finished her Girl Scout Gold Award project.
She worked her magic at the Good Hope Therapeutic Riding Center in the Redlands, where she’s been a volunteer.
“They offer therapy for individuals with disabilities, veterans with PTSD, foster children, and people with life threatening diseases,” she says. “I’ve been horseback riding since first grade.”
She’s one of many volunteers.
“We have many experienced people there. Normally it’s not just one person,” she says. “Depending on each rider, different levels of assistance may be required.”
When the children first go to the farm, they often spend the first few visits looking at the horses, and touching them, and offering them treats.
“All the horses are extremely calm and wonderful,” she says.
Marchus says that last year she wanted to do more for the center than just volunteering.
“That’s when I started talking to the founder of Good Hope,” she says.
For the Gold Award, she painted the barn tan and green and also painted the wheel chair ramps around the property.
“We had to pressure clean, and then we painted the barn,” she says. “We also decided that I would establish a gardening program. I built two gardening plots. Then I instructed the volunteers and kids how to sustain a garden.”
Gardening can be another form of therapy for the disabled kids and adults, and the gardens allow them to participating in two forms of therapy on each visit. The gardens have both flowers and vegetables.
Marchus owns her own horse that she keeps in horse country. When she purchased him, he was not used to being ridden, so she’s spent a lot of time training him. He’s now ready for equestrian competitions. Those competitions were to start in November.
Although she had a busy summer with her Gold Award project, she also took time to attend a summer program at Florida State University. There she studied the role of actin in cell nuclei, Zika infection virology, and stem cell differentiation.
“We made observations regarding the presence and function of actin in cell nuclei,” she says. “For the Zika virus, we infected glioblastoma (brain tumor) cells with the Zika Virus, and tracked changes in the organization of the cell DNA at multiple time points. We determined that the largest changes in the infected cell occurred 24 hours after infection, which is crucial to understanding and curing the virus in the future.”
They also compared stem cells at different points of differentiation to find changes in cell physiology and active areas of the genetic code.
“We found that as cells matured and became more specialized, the genetic code is expressed differently in each region of DNA and the cells become more limited in function and architecture,” she says.
In 2016, she went on a medical outreach mission trip to Guatemala. There, she saw the consequences of the Zika virus first hand.
At Palmetto, Marchus has played lacrosse on the varsity team since Freshman year. She’s one of the members of the successful Odyssey of the Mind team that won second place at the World Finals. As a member of Science National Honor Society, she’s competed in Envirothon, the Lexus Eco Challenge and the Astronaut Challenge.
She’s a member of Student Council. Last year she was the Community Outreach chair. This year she’s working on environmental outreach.
In college, she interested in biology – she’s not sure if she wants to go into pre-med or biomedical engineering.
The colleges topping her list include Duke, Cornell, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of Florida.
Palmetto High School senior Scott Simmons plays the bagpipes. For someone who has only been playing a couple of years, he’s a terrific bagpiper. He’s so good, he’s ranked tenth by the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association.
“I love it so much. It’s just the greatest,” he says.
Playing bagpipes is not considered a thing that young people do. In fact, he’s one of the few bagpipers in Miami younger than 50 years old.
Why is a teen playing bagpipes? Believe it or not, it has to do with a movie.
“I watched Braveheart in ninth grade, for extra credit in AP World History,” he says. “All my friends and I became obsessed with Scottish culture and I took it a step further.”
Now, Simmons is in a band called Harp and Thistle Pipe Band with people from Naples and Ft. Lauderdale.
“We meet on Alligator Alley on weekends,” he says. “We meet at rest stops. Whenever we play, it draws a really big crowd.”
Simmons takes private lessons from two teachers, over Skype. One of his teachers is Jack Lee, who is ranked among the top ten bagpipers in the world.
His obsession with all things Scottish has led him to create his own business, Piper of Pinecrest. He’s available for hire to play bagpipes at special occasions.
Simmons does have an innate love of music. He used to play the sax and clarinet. Now he is a bagpiper but also plays guitar, piano and drums. He admits to being a natural musician.
Lest you think that music is Simmons’ only talent, he’s also a top-notch organizer and project manager. His Boy Scout Eagle project refurbished sections of the Good Hope Equestrian Center, which provides horseback activities for people with mental and physical disabilities.
He directed more than 80 volunteers who contributed 693 man hours. The project beautified the club and facility, renovated the main horse path by lining it with railroad ties and mulching the path, building a chicken brooder box, refurbishing the chicken coop, building an above ground planter for sunflowers and butterfly plants, planting a vegetable garden, and raising a new American Flag.
The project cost more than $3,500 and his fundraising was so efficient that after paying the bills he donated more than $2,000 in remaining funds to the equestrian center.
In Scouts, he’s a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster and former Senior Patrol Leader of Troop 457.
Simmons has more than a thousand hours in community service. He earned those hours though volunteering at numerous Eagle Scout projects and volunteering at summer camps at the Deering Estate and A.D. Barnes Park.
At Deering, he was the First Aid Kit coordinator and a counselor in training. He checked all the first aid kits to make sure they were up to date. At A.D. Barnes Park, he was a counselor in training.
“I volunteered with the kids themselves,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
At Palmetto, he’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Science National Honor Society, the Social Science Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Interact, Key Club, Amnesty International, Model United Nations and Debate.
This school year he plans to compete in Envirothon and History Bowl. He’s the secretary of the Debate Club. He competes in the public forum debate category.
In college, he plans to major in mechanical engineering. His top schools are the University of Florida, Florida State University, Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt.
Miami Palmetto High School Senior Sarah Khan teaches conversational English to underprivileged immigrants in Homestead.
She started this past summer, after her mom told her about hiring a worker who couldn’t speak English for the family construction site.
“My uncle works there too, he owns the place,” Khan says. “My uncle said, ‘all these workers, I can’t talk to them because I can only speak English’.”
When her mom was telling her about the situation, Khan suggested they should teach them English. They talked to the worker and he in turn asked his pastor at La Iglesia Roca Fuerte if anyone else in the church was interested in learning English.
An announcement was made and they started with 30 students, about double what Khan had expected. The classes are every Saturday night for 90-minutes. Khan’s mom and cousins help her teach the class.
“We separate the group into three different groups,” she says. “We have Advanced, where my oldest cousin takes charge, I’m in charge of Beginners and my other cousin is in charge of Intermediate.”
The program is important to Khan because she comes from a family of immigrants.
“On my mother’s side, my grandma is from El Salvador,” she says. “My mom grew up in the states, and took advantage of the education here, but it was impossible for my grandmother.”
Most of the students already know the basics, but they struggle with speaking English. The goal is to help them be able to converse comfortably and help them recognize the need to climb the educational ladder.
She writes the lesson plans based on lessons she’s seen online and from her experience from her previous Spanish classes.
“I translate vocabulary from English to Spanish and incorporate the vocabulary into situational prompts,” she says.
Likewise her goal is to enroll each student into evening English classes with the help of her community before she goes off to college.
Khan spoke only English with her dad and Spanish with her mom. When the family was all together, they spoke mostly English.
Growing up, Khan was not at all confident speaking Spanish until she went to a language middle school, which helped take away her fear.
“I felt like these students felt,” she says.
Through technology, she plans to stream the English classes.
Her volunteer work includes a summer at Shake-A-Leg, the Coconut Grove based program that teaches handicapped and underprivileged children water sports.
She worked with the regular kids. She and the children kayaked, sailed and learned science. They also did arts and crafts, went swimming and fishing.
She’s also volunteered at the Miami Open. She loved watching tennis because she used to play so she enjoyed the week she spent working the tournament.
Last year, Khan was a photographer on the yearbook staff at Palmetto.
“Photography was something I was interested in and so was journalism,” she says. “It improved my social skills and my photography skills.”
Being on staff also helped her integrate into Palmetto. She’d attended Coral Reef the first two years of high school but withdrew because she was supposed to move to California with her father. However, when those plans fell through, she enrolled in Palmetto.
Her plan now is to go to college in California, so she’s applying to all the California state universities. Her top colleges are USC and UCLA. She wants to major in civil engineering and work for transportation companies.
Her interest in transportation grew after she attended the University Miami National Summer Transportation Institute program which taught the students how transportation works in Miami.