Winners in App Challenge


As parents and police constantly advise the public to report information as a way to fight crime, a group of North Dade Middle School students have developed an app that makes that task easy.

The app is called “See Something, Say Something.” The name is taken from the same buzz phrase widely used by local law enforcement to coax adults and teenagers to break the no-snitch code that hinders police from solving violent crime.

A pair of eighth graders, Abigail Williams and Elijah Jean-Gilles, led their robotics classmates to create what could be a much-needed virtual aid.

“We decided we needed to pitch the idea to make a change,” said Abigail, 13. She is the chief salesman. Elijah developed the code. The team members say they are a code away from sending their creation to the App Store or Play Store and to the public.

Their work is laudable, especially considering that North Dade scored an F in the 2016 state assessment tests. Their new principal, Kharim Armand, believes the school deserves better. She has pledged to move the collective score to at least a C by the end of the year.


Last week, the Miami Gardens school gained a major advocate in actress JoMarie Payton. She said the Miami Gardens school is far better than the F label it received. The subject of failing public schools is an agenda item at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.

Payton, who perhaps is best remembered for her role as Mrs. Winslow on the television series “Family Matters,” attended North Dade High School in the 1960s until integration forced her and others to Carol City High. She recently returned to the North Dade campus as “Principal for the Day.” While she was impressed by the innovation of the students, she was dismayed by the school’s grade.

“Anything learned is not wasted. If it’s a school it … should never come up with an F rating. That’s a failure on all levels,” Payton said. “That’s the teachers, students, administrators. That means something has slipped through the cracks.”

Payton, one of several men and women celebrities and public figures chosen by Miami-Dade Public Schools district to serve as guest principal, said she took the role seriously. She stood with the principal to greet each student as they arrived.

“I didn’t get the feeling of F school,” Payton said. “You don’t feel like you’re in a zone of failure. For it to be clarified as an failure, you’d expect anger, police all over the place. Where is this coming from?”


The subject of failing schools is a topic on the Dec. 14 agenda of the Miami-Dade County Public School Board. Steve Gallon, the member who represents North Dade, has proposed a more defined way to track issues at the schools. He wants to get the resources needed to identify problems and turn the schools around.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the school system is providing help.

“Student achievement data is used to tier schools within the District. A tiered approach ensures that the most fragile schools receive the highest level of support,” Carvalho said.  “Using this approach has been effective with the number of underperforming schools in Miami-Dade decreasing, including the total elimination of “F” rated high schools. We continue to be very focused on the most fragile schools by providing additional resources, support, as well as deploying leaders who demonstrate ability that turn schools around. Sadly, over the past few years, stricter standards, a new grading scale, and tougher assessments, have resulted in statewide regression of grades.  A new principal was appointed to North Dade Middle School at the beginning of the school year, and an additional Assistant Principal was assigned to the school to assist with monitoring student academic progress.  With the support of our School Board and community, we will continue the difficult but important work of school improvement.”

Payton said she did not recall her former school having a negative label. A few years ago, the school had one of the highest rankings in the area. Her church, Pratt Methodist, is adopting the school. Payton wants to bring theater, something she knows well, as a quarterly activity for the students.

Armand said students are involved in Miami Gardens projects. This year, students visited City Hall with adults from a senior citizens program to read, learn local history and create a butterfly garden. They also created a 3D design for a bench that was constructed by a local architect. “Our kids were all engaged. They were sucking [information from the seniors] up,” said Ron Marcelo, assistant principal.

In January, some students will begin a dual enrollment program where they can enroll in for credit courses at Miami Dade College, Armand said.

“In order to lift the community and get out of this F rut, we will be a “C,” and we’re on track,” Armand said.

The school’s TV, Robotics and app production programs could be the key in the turnaround. Robotics instructor Ray Parris said a separate group of students is creating a gear system that helps people overcome paralysis and be able to walk again.

“Our objective is to get a patent,” said Parris. “We’re looking at companies to build the prototype.”

Those victories could help instill hope, against the failure label, Payton said.

“I saw young people’s faces looking for an answer, some kind of hope,” she said. “I will do whatever I can do to give them a little spark.”