Palmetto High School senior Alberto Hernandez spent much of his summer working as an intern in the Florida International University agro-ecology program learning about sustainable agriculture, soil chemistry and soil microorganisms.
“My counselor recommended it to me,” Hernandez says. “I didn’t want to let my brain atrophy over the summer.”
He didn’t let his body atrophy, either. He spent much of the summer selling mangos he cultivated on one-and-a-half acres (with 100 trees) that he rents in the East Kendall area.
“I would wake up at 8 a.m., pick up mangos with a wheel barrel, then sit on the side of the road and sell them,” he says.
Although most people would not call that fun, Hernandez says it was indeed a fun experience, and he enjoyed seeing his hard work turn into money.
“Salesmanship is fun,” he says, adding that he grossed over $3,000 from his hard work.
The dress code for the manual labor needed to harvest and sell mangos on a hot summer day is quite different than the dress code for attending school. But when school is in session, Hernandez stands out from the crowd. On Fridays he and his core group of friends dress up to go to school. You won’t catch them in jeans and tee shirts. Dress shirts and ties are more their style.
“I think we started it in our junior year,” Hernandez says. “We’re trying to carry it on every Friday with at least one person for the whole year. It’s nice; at worst you stand out and at best you get some compliments.”
His academic work also stands out, especially in math and science. In fact, Hernandez is president of Mu Alpha Theta, the math club, which he says is the largest club in the school.
“Right now, I’m focusing on spreading the club to the middle schools so that the middle school kids learn to like math,” he says. “We’re tutoring (for competitions) at the middle school and we’re going to invite them to come to competitions with us here locally.”
Middle school students taking algebra in the seventh or eighth grade can compete.
“They don’t discriminate by age,” Hernandez says, adding that he hopes this will help the younger students realize that math can be fun.
As for science, Hernandez participates in the Science National Honor Society, which this year has merged with the Science Competitors Club.
“I stay after school and tutor in chemistry and physics,” he says. “On the competitors’ side, I do stuff with the Science Bowl and the Science Olympiad (at Barry).”
Hernandez placed fourth in the Honors Chemistry competition of the Science Olympiad. He had a conflict last year and couldn’t compete, but this year his plans include the Physics section of the Science Olympiad.
Last year, Palmetto sent two teams to the Science Bowl. The teams ended up having to face each other and Hernandez was on the losing team. The winning team went on to the National Science Bowl competition in Washington.
As for college, Hernandez wants to attend an Ivy League school and his top choice is Harvard. He is hoping to follow the tradition of Mu Alpha Theta presidents before him who made it into MIT and Princeton. Other colleges on his list include Georgia Tech and the University of Florida.
He’s not quite sure of his major, but he is considering pure mathematics, pure physics or a marriage of math and science with a degree in engineering.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld