On a recent Wednesday morning, students walked with friends across the atrium of Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy, heading to their next block of classes. There is room to move, and it’s an orderly group of engaged kids.
More than a decade ago, the school at 5701 W. 24th Ave. in Hialeah left its rough reputation behind. Focused on teaching math, science and technology, it’s earned high national rankings and draws families from Miami Lakes to its campus.
“We have less than 1,000 students and we have a small, manageable school,” Principal Jose Enriquez Jr. said.
And that size population, spread across seven grades, means a student who may be struggling academically will get attention from teachers, he said.
Jose Marti can boast “A” ratings from the state since 2013, except for 2020, the pandemic year when ratings and assessments were paused.
U.S. News & World Report ranked it 10th in Florida high schools, citing how Advanced Placement course participation is 97%.
Jose Marti was ranked 87th in the nation, praising student performance on state-required tests, graduation rates and how well they are prepared for college.
Seventy percent of the kids are economically disadvantaged, the publication’s website said.
Other bragging rights: 89% of students are proficient in English and Language Arts, Enriquez Jr. said.
Also, middle schoolers placed well on the high school end of course exam: 99% earned a passing score, the school said.
Aurora Pelaez of Miami Lakes has 30 years’ experience in the school district and is a school counselor at Jose Marti. Her son Dylan Mut started there in the sixth grade and is now a 10th grader.
The small class sizes appeal to her, as well as the discipline the students have toward the learning the curriculum, their good behavior and the school community.
“To me it’s as close as you can get to a private school, and it’s not a private school,” Pelaez said.
Pelaz offered to transfer Dylan to nearby Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School or Barbara Goleman Senior High School so he could play sports, but he chose to remain at Jose Marti.
The school offers intramural sports; kids can play on teams at high schools near their homes.
Roma Mesa also lives in Miami Lakes and sends her two daughters to Jose Marti.
“We chose to put my oldest there when she was finishing elementary school,” Mesa said. “She had always been an overachiever and we heard that the academics were really strong.”
Her daughter Hannah will graduate this year and Elise, her younger child, is in seventh grade.
Jose Marti is one of four MAST academy programs offered by the district. Admission requires a minimum GPA.
“The requirements are not out of reach for elementary and middle school,” Enriquez Jr. said. “It’s a 2.0 [grade point average] …it steps up to a 2.5 [grade point average] in high school.”
Enriquez Jr. has led the school since 2006 and oversaw its transition to the MAST program in 2011.
His father, Jose Enriquez Sr., was the school’s first principal in 1987.
The entry requirements aren’t as tough the program itself can be, with its strong focus on science and math.
“Students have double science classes with a real lab, in addition to the regular class,” Enriquez Jr. said.
Mesa said that when she was growing up, Jose Marti was not what it is today. She attended a different high school in the region.
“We remember when we were in school…we remember [it] having a bad reputation,” Mesa said. “It’s incredible to see the change with the student body.”
In addition to their MAST courses, students are being taught the same curriculum that children study at other area schools. They also have over 50 clubs and activities to choose from, Enriquez Jr. said.
He credits his staff for the students’ and the school’s continued success. The entire staff has been with him since 2011, he said.
“I think the biggest aspect is that we have a special set of teachers here who really work together,” Enriquez Jr. said.
The parent teacher student association, or PTSA, is very engaged and plays a huge role at the school.
“I think the edge, [the reason why] to choose our school … is we have developed a reputation with a lot of the top colleges,” Enriquez Jr. said.
Students who thrive in the nurturing environment at Jose Marti go on to attend Ivy League colleges such as Harvard University and Brown University, among other top schools, he said.
To learn more about Jose Marti 6-12 Mast Academy visit www.josemartimast.net.