PALMETTO BAY – Elijah Williams was in the fifth grade when he set his sights on a career in engineering. The best way to get there, he decided, was with an Ivy League education. So, he set his sights on attending Harvard University.
“I want to learn as much as I can,” he said.
Elijah is an eighth grader at Perrine Seventh-Day Adventist School in Palmetto Bay, a suburban incorporated village in Miami-Dade County. He has attended the K-8 private school since kindergarten with the help of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
“I feel like I’m lucky to be in this school,” Elijah said. “The teachers care. The students care, and I’m just happy to be part of it.”
His mom, Kerry-Ann Taylor, a nurse, is thrilled to hear Elijah talk about earning an Ivy League education. Like Elijah, Taylor sees it as an attainable goal and not just a dream. Elijah has always been a grade or two ahead of his class and works hard to earn his grades.
He could read when he was 9 months old, according to his grandmother, and was reading at a first-grade level when he was 3. He won the school’s science fair in kindergarten when he made an egg float.
Elijah can figure out math problems in his head without the use of scrap paper, much to the chagrin of his teachers, who want students to display their work. He once reprogrammed a Samsung tablet that was on the fritz.
So, Harvard? Why not?
“It’s very, very challenging,” Taylor said. “But he’s fearless. He’s eager to learn.”
Elijah recently learned to play pickleball. The sport didn’t come easy to him, but he stuck with it. That’s a trait he displays in school.
“He never gives up,” Taylor said. “If he fails the first time, he tries again, and he’ll knock it out of the park.”
Principal Howard Summerbell said his staff seeks to identify what subjects most interest the students and then encourage them in that direction. For Elijah, it became engineering after the staff saw his interest in robotics class and how well he scored on the MAP Test, which measures a student’s knowledge of reading, language usage, and mathematics.
“Elijah is one of those kids that’s academically gifted,” Summerbell said. “He works very hard. He has a unique study pattern that facilitates his intellectual growth and development. He has a supportive (mother and grandmother) who reinforces at home what we do at school. We know he’s going to really go far.”
Unique study pattern?
That’s where Elijah’s grandmother, Millicent Taylor, takes over.
Every day, when Elijah gets home from school, he has a snack and begins working on an assignment from Millicent. Some days, it’s a few pages from a workbook. On other days, he logs on to Mathnasium, an online supplemental math program, which his mother pays for with personal funds.
He does this for an hour or two each afternoon.
When he’s finished, it’s me time, Elijah said. Some days, he spends that time writing poetry.
In addition to his interest in coding and math and the other principles involved in engineering, Elijah is a published poet. His work has been featured in “A Celebration of Poets, Grades 7-9.”
He studies writer/poet Claude McKay, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance that took place in the 1920s and 1930s.
Elijah’s poems range from civil rights to Black history to the COVID pandemic to the Adventist Christian education he receives at school.
“Poetry just comes naturally to me,” he said. “I want to spread truth. I have something to say, and I think people should listen to what you have to say.”
From his poem on his education:
“The vision and the mission are child-centered
With confidence, effective teachers to mentor
They help students become better people
So that life doesn’t become a burden.”
Elijah has his sights set on a future that will not be a burden. He wants to become an engineer so he can provide a comfortable life for his family and so he can help others.
Elijah will attend Greater Miami Adventist Academy for high school. And then … Harvard.
“Yes,” he said, “if I work hard.”