Stephanie gives her classmates a high five at Northeast High.
"Carmen very much decided that her mission in life was to make my life easier. Every day, she would send her a card with sayings," Sweeting says. "Even during Christmas break, she wanted to make sure there was a card every day."
One card read: "Life is like a roller coaster. You go up, you go down. And when its time to get off, its time to get off."
Camacho, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, lived in the Bronx for 11 years before moving to South Florida and starting sixth grade.
Understanding how others feel is a special gift Camacho has, Sweeting said.
"I just feel their pain," Camacho says.
At the awards celebration, 24 students were recognized as top honorees, representing each innovation zone and the charter school category, and 24 more were awarded honorable mentions. Each of 186 schools also had top honorees recognized and 180 schools had honorable mentions. Superintendent of Schools Frank Till and Sun-Sentinel Publisher Bob Gremillion greeted the students and their families.
Getting involved has helped both Michael Bohorquez, a fifth-grader from Hollywood Park ElementaryBohorquez, who arrived in the United States from Colombia in February 1999, and his classmates. He was selected from the McArthur High feeder pattern.
"Hes very much into participating, and just loves to jump in there and take the lead," says Nicholas Matzirakis, his teacher at Hollywood Park. "Wherever you are, youll always find him doing the right thing. That includes helping other students who are making the difficult transition by learning English on the fly. Bohorquez had to learn the language quickly when he started school three years ago at Hollywood Park, but now he's quite fluent. He also does his part by serving on the school's safety patrol and being one of the students who puts the U.S. and Florida flags up each day.
After school, he sometimes walks his sister, Laura, across the school grounds, where they participate in after-care programs at the Hollywood Boys and Girls Club. That makes his mother, Claudia, happy.
"He has a beautiful heart," she says. "He helps all children, old people and his sister."
Suzanne Al-Said, a fourth-grader at Silver Lakes Elementary in Miramar, selected from the Flanagan High feeder pattern, has shown kindness and responsibility since coming to Silver Lakes from Silver Palms Elementary three years ago. But this year she has been a lesson in perseverance.
Her mother, Inaam Mohamed Al-Said, was killed Oct. 26 in a car accident at Sheridan Street and 185th Way in Pembroke Pines. Al-Said has helped her father take care of two younger siblings.
"I dont think I'd even be able to function, but here she is, turning in all of her work, and never making excuses," says her teacher, Inez Nielsen.
She walks her brother, Ahmad, to his first-grade class, then sits with him at night while he does "every piece" of his homework, Nielsen says.
"And if there's a child in our class that needs any kind of help, she's there," Nielsen says. "Not in a teacher's pet kind of way. She's just truly concerned."
Leigh-Ann Fairweather, a seventh-grader at Nova Middle School in Davie, became involved with "signing" for the hearing-impaired seven years ago with her church, the Lighthouse Seventh-Day Adventists in Fort Lauderdale.
She since has become involved with Speaking Hands, a Miami-based group that travels throughout Florida motivating audiences by signing. Her highlight came in 1999, when she and the rest of the group signed The Star-Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami.
Jeffry Womack, a senior at Fort Lauderdale High, stopped a students suicide attempt. The student was working her way toward the auditorium roof, and Womack climbed up to calm her. He eventually moved close enough to overtake her physically.
"It's not like I thought about it," he says. "I just acted."
But character isn't created by just one action. Womack is among the school's leaders in the Naval Junior ROTC program, serving as a drill team and rifle team commander, and operations officer.
"It's good for discipline and respect," he says.
Nick Sortal can be reached at email@example.com or 954-385-7906.