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By Nikki Cabus

Pines Middle School celebrates the opening of the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab

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This month, Pines Middle School celebrated the grand opening of the new Verizon Innovative Learning Lab in the City of Pembroke Pines.

The Verizon Innovative Learning program is helping millions of students thrive delivering technology and access to millions of students, inspiring teachers with learning tools and students to explore STEM, and training over 10 million youth in digital skills by 2030.

Whether learning about under water animals, music, content creation, art or engineering, students can tap into their creativity. Through an online portal, teachers can access lessons, training tools and innovative apps at no cost to help bring next-gen tech into the classroom. From the needed devices to the online portal, everything is provided.

Pines Middle School is located in Pembroke Pines which is a part of Broward County Public Schools. According to a US News World Report, Pines Middle School’s minority student enrollment is over 94% with over 600 students in 6th – 8th grades. Less than half the students have proficient test scores in reading and math as of 2021. The school district and the middle school are working very hard to change this.

In November 2014, Broward County voters approved an $800 million bond referendum that provides critically needed funding for students and schools. Broward County Public Schools has committed to investing the funding in safety, music, art, athletics, renovations, and technology (SMART) at every school. The Office of Facilities and Construction is tasked with renovations to schools based on the SMART program needs assessment. Pines Middle School was allocated $1,163,728 with a targeted completion of Q2 in 2024.

Additionally, as part of the School Choice Enhancement Program (SCEP), schools are allocated $100,000 to spend on customized enhancements voted on by the school and its community. Common uses of the funds include laptops, security enhancements, projectors, and other useful educational tools. Pines Middle School chose to use some of the funds towards desk tops, laptop wiring, a Think Station, morning show equipment, Thank Pads and more.

This recent gift from Verizon is a perfect complement to all the renovations and improvements that school has been going through for the past few years.

Through the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab program, teachers receive robust professional development and coaching to cultivate powerful learning that extends beyond the classroom. Education leaders benefit from the infrastructure, expert guidance, and learning community to design and implement sustainable approaches to digital equity. There is no cost to the school.

Verizon is always looking to partner with new districts where Verizon Innovative Learning Schools can support digital equity and learning. Interested public school districts or public charter networks in the U.S. with at least two qualifying schools may apply. To qualify, schools must: (1) Serve middle and/or high school students and (2) Have a free and reduced price lunch participation rate of 65%+ or participate in the Community Eligibility Provision.

The event was attended by Pembroke Pines City Commissioner Thomas Good, Jr. and Verizon’s Director, Local Engagement (State & Local Government Affairs), Merdochey LaFrance.

Merdochey wrote in a recent social media post, “Technology is the great equalizer and can propel students to brighter futures. Pines Middle School students can access innovative learning tools with the opening of the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab!” She continued, “I’m grateful to City of Pembroke Pines Commissioner Tom Good for joining me last night for the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab ribbon cutting at Pines Middle School!”

To learn more about Verizon’s Innovative Learning Program, visit

By Nikki Cabus

FPL’s Classroom Makeover Grant Program helps underserved classroom access STEM education across Florida

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Florida Power & Light‘s Classroom Makeover Grant Program has transformed another five classroom across the state of Florida. 

As part of a $1 million, 4-year commitment from its charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation, works to advance STEM curriculum, increase the exposure of Black students to STEM education and jumpstart students’ interest in STEM careers. Each year through 2024, five schools are selected in FPL’s service area to receive the $50,000 grant.

The grants are intended to provide transformational learning opportunities for Black students in classroom settings, as all recipient schools are comprised of at least 25% Black students. The Classroom Makeover Grant program and funds are available to directly addresses needs in infrastructure, technology or resources (i.e., software, equipment, books, training of teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals).

“Our STEM Classroom Makeover Grant allows us to invest in our next generation to help provide transformational learning opportunities for Black students in a STEM classroom setting,” said Pamela Rauch, Vice President of External Affairs & Economic Development for FPL, in a previous interview.

“We are excited that these projects will be one of the first, as we complete our inaugural year of implementing this grant, which allows us to support both educators and students, our next generation of leaders.”

Congratulations to this year’s 2022-2023 winning classrooms in Florida:

FPL’s five classroom makeover grant recipients in Florida for the 2022 inaugural year were:

Cypress Run Education Center School, an alternative school in Broward County, invested in a multimedia technology lab, web design programs, TV production arrangements, coding software, robotics education and Microsoft certifications. South Florida Tech Hub had the honor of being invited to their most recent student Hackathon hosted by STEM teacher, Ms. Osas Guis-Obaseki and Principal Harrigan.

Ms. Osas has spearheaded a STEM Club that meets biweekly to expose students to programming and the computer science field. She has given students the opportunity to to build computers, learn coding and programming, and gain skills using digital tools. Ms. O hosts quarterly Hackathons where students demonstrate their coding skills and compete with other students.

Under her leadership, students have complete the Microsoft certifications in HTML and CSS Programming, Website Design, and MS Office. She has also been able to collaborate with additional industry partners such as CloudHesive, Oracle, ReGenerate Tech, and many more.

Ms. Osas got in touch with South Florida Tech Hub in 2022 as a volunteer at the annual TECHpalooza in Broward County where she also brought students to educate them on the importance of networking, giving back and getting exposure to tech professionals in South Florida.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach was also one of five schools in Florida to be awarded a Classroom Makeover Grant from FPL last year to advance STEM curriculum, increase the exposure of Black students to STEM education and jumpstart students’ interest in STEM careers. The $50,000 grant that the school received supported a variety of professional education resources, including computers, robot lab packs, aerodynamics sets, and renewable energy education kits. See the full WPTV update here.

“As a Title 1 school with a 98% Black population, we are committed to providing children of color with vast learning opportunities and exposure to STEM education and careers,” Katrina W. Granger, the principal at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School, said.

“We are so appreciative of FPL’s commitment to diversity in STEM, which has made the vision of hardworking and inspiring STEM educator with big dreams, Tracy Howard, come to fruition. This grant will support both Mrs. Howard and her scholars achieve their greatest dream.”

This grant is open to all public, private and charter schools and all grade levels in FPL’s service area in Florida. Grants are also available to schools in areas served by FPL’s sister company NextEra Energy Resources. As with all foundation grants, no customer dollars are involved.

Schools can apply now for the next grant cycle. Applications are now open and will close October 15, 2023! 

  Read more

By Adam Elitzur

Former South Floridian Farza Majeed raised $10M for school backed by Andreessen Horowitz; now helping others’ ideas come to life

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Buildspace, a school that aims to help people learn how to build businesses in domains they love,  raised $10 million from funders such as Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Inc and Y-Combinator.

The school is now offering a six-week, free, online Nights & Weekends program, where creators can pick an idea and build it with the guidance of mentors and peers. Any idea is possible in Nights & Weekends, with projects ranging from software such as AI or blockchain, engineering a bike that powers electricity, or art such as music and films. It’s a place where you can figure out what you’re passionate about, create something you love working on, and then learn how to turn that creation into a financially sustainable path you can pursue full-time.

Nights & Weekends is geared towards those who are working or studying full-time during the week and are excited to devote 6 weeks of their spare time to advance an idea that they have. The program is designed to be flexible and fun, with no lectures or homework. Instead, participants get access to live sessions with mentors and experts. They also get to interact with other builders in a supportive and collaborative community.

During the six-week program, participants decide on a goal for their idea which they work on throughout the entirety of the program. The schedule is pretty simple:

  • Week 1: Lock Down Your Idea
  • Week 2: Create Version One of Your MVP
  • Week 3 – 6: Iterate On Your Idea Alongside Thousands of Others
  • End of Week 6: Demo Day

During demo day, participants present their projects including their progress and struggles. 32 participants are picked to compete for a cash prize. Last season, Season 3, Buildspace awarded a total of $100,000 to four builders. A musician, a film maker, a game developer, and a farmer each received $25,000 as support in continuing to build their projects.

Elea Vogli, who is writing an album, Esther Joy, who is creating eco chamber DAO to make community gardening easier, Chaos Town, which is a local documentary series based in Portland, and Hussain, who is creating Split Horizons, a game about a girl exploring imaginary environments and finding a way to go beyond them.

Season 3 graduated 450 people from the program. Their demos are available on the Buildspace website.

Nights & Weekends culminates with events held in both San Francisco and Dubai where participants can finally meet in person, network and showcase their projects.

Buildspace claims that its programs are suitable for anyone who wants to learn new skills and build something cool, regardless of their background or experience level. The company says that its mission is to help people be able to work full-time on their dream creations sustainably. Therefore, Buildspace’s programs are free for users and Buildspace is profitable off of their sponsorship and partnership model.

“I started Buildspace because I wanted to build the school that I wish I had,” stated Farza Majeed, Founder of Buildspace. “When I was going to university, it was very strange for someone to be working on their own ideas and pursue the path of not getting a job. I want to make that a path that is more default.”

Founder Farza Majeed was raised in Pembroke Pines, Florida. He founded Buildspace, originally named ZipHomeschool, in December 2019.  ZipHomeschool aimed to build software to help parents homeschool their kids. The company then pivoted to a learning platform for users to explore their career options, mainly in web3 and Artificial Intelligence. Now, Buildspace is primarily focusing on their Nights & Weekends program, as well as a new school in San Francisco, with the first three-month cohort starting in July.

Majeed and the team are looking to grow Buildspace with campuses internationally, making it accessible to people around the world regardless of their visa. Buildspace has a hub in San Francisco, is expanding to Dubai and India and is eventually planning to build a very large campus.

Majeed has advice for people who have an idea but are not sure where to start.

“Don’t overcomplicate it, just get something out there that you are kind of embarrassed by,” he stated. “It’s ok to be embarrassed by it. Show other people, because there are not many people in the world who go from idea to showing other people their idea. If you’re already doing that, you are in the minority. Just get something out there, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Very few people understand this, you don’t need a thought together business, it doesn’t even need to make sense, it just needs to make you feel some joy.”

Applications are now open for Season 4 of the Buildspace Nights & Weekends program. The program begins on August 5th.

Pines Middle School celebrates the opening of the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab
FPL’s Classroom Makeover Grant Program helps underserved classroom access STEM education across Florida
Former South Floridian Farza Majeed raised $10M for school backed by Andreessen Horowitz; now helping others’ ideas come to life