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Miami's Erick Velis: ‘You Have to Explore the Genius Inside of You’

June 28, 2023 | Jeffrey Good

Miami's Erick Velis: ‘You Have to Explore the Genius Inside of You’ image

If graduation candidates at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies (MDAA) are looking for a role model in developing a wide range of life skills, they need look no further than Erick Velis. 

The Cuban-born math coach is humble, congenial and soft-spoken. But scratch the surface, and a wealth of talents emerges: Erick is an accomplished guitarist, recently earned a master’s degree in biostatistics and is often cited by learners as an educator who has helped change their lives for the best. 

“There is a genius growing inside of us, inside of me, inside of you, inside of everyone,” Erick says. “I tell the GCs you have to explore the genius that is growing inside of you.” 

Erick was born in western Cuba, where he spent the first decade of his life. His family relocated to Miami, where his physician father teaches at Barry University, the school where Erick earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics. 

For a time, Erick taught math at a Miami Beach middle school, but he longed for the opportunity to spend more time one-on-one with his students — to get to know them on a human level, not just an academic one. 

He found that opportunity at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies. “In Acceleration Academies, I have the opportunity to sit down with a GC to actually help them with their life, to listen to them,” he says. At his old school, “I rarely had the opportunity to listen.” 

Many students arrive at MDAA from traditional schools feeling like people didn’t have the time to listen. Here, they have the opportunity to take one class at a time, to move at the pace that works best for them and to avail themselves of support — not only academic, but also personal. 

Most arrive with challenges that have made traditional school tough — including poverty, teen parenthood, social anxiety, legal problems and the need to work full-time to support themselves and their families. The crowded classrooms and chaotic hallways of their old schools seemed overwhelming at times. 

At MDAA, they find a quiet, studious and safe atmosphere. “This place brings peace to our GCs. When we lower the stress level, learning goes up,” he says. “I think this place is magical.” 

Not long before Erick and I spoke, graduate Marc Orbegozo had returned to the campus with coffee, empanadas and pastries and news of his life after graduation. Now married and in college, he is working toward a career in law enforcement and looking back in gratitude for his time at MDAA. 

“He will never forget his experience here,” he says. “We are changing lives, and to me that is the most important thing in this world.” 

Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies accepts new students on a rolling basis. For more information, check out the academy web page and fill out an online enrollment form.

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