Duval County Students Get State Leadership Awards, Here’s What One Of Them Overcame

Oct 19, 2017

Jahzara Alexander poses with her award alongside her math teacher Debra Scott at FSCJ Wednesday.
Credit Keturah Zalmijn

Four Duval County students received leadership awards from the Florida Department of Education Wednesday. The children were recognized for overcoming challenges that ranged from family issues to learning difficulties.

At the Department of Education meeting held at the downtown campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville Wednesday, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart called 12-year-old Jahzara Alexander to come forward.

Jahzara, a seventh-grader at Duval’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy, was wearing her school uniform — a red plaid skirt and white button-up with a tie — when she walked up to claim her framed “Commissioner’s Leadership Award.”

“I didn’t know how to describe it because usually I’m not the type of person that’ll get a high award like that,” Jahzara said later on Wednesday.

She said that’s because just a few years ago she was failing math. Jahzara noticed she was behind in third grade, the year multiplication is taught.

“It was like a whole bunch of people in my class and I was the only one that didn’t understand it,” she said.

Her mom, Keturah Zalmijn said hearing that now is really hard.

“Of course she never expressed it verbally,” Zalmijn said. “But with seeing test scores, the standardized test scores and just her grades, I knew something was wrong.”

But all of that changed in sixth grade when Jahzara said her teacher, Debra Scott made math class a safe space at her single-gender school.

“All of the girls have my number, they can call me,” Scott  said.

She said the students were allowed to call her for help until 8 p.m., and as Jahzara’s grades began to improve, Scott said she saw something in Jahzara, who had even started teaching her peers math.

“She was a leader in the class,” Scott said.

Jahzara now volunteers in the New Town area of Jacksonville, packing bags of food for those who need it and handing them out. She’s also what’s called a school ambassador. That means teachers picked her to represent the school. Jahzara said part of her job is to give school tours to new kids and visitors.

“Just walking around the school, making sure everything is OK,” she said, “kind of like an assistant principal but you know, lower.”

Jahzara said she also likes taking other students under her wing, especially if they’re being bullied.

“I take people in just because,” Jahzara said. “I want to make new friends. I want to show them that they’re more than just what those people say.”

And all of that is why Jahzara received state recognition for her leadership.

Other Duval students who received the award include Damaris Aquaiza at Matthew W. Gilbert Middle School,  Brandy Lane, now at FSCJ, and Elijah Lima of Ed White Military Academy of Leadership.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.