Preston student captures the EVOLVE Award

Somewhere between going to softball practices, karate matches and the constant demand of high school classes and friends, 14-year-old Dakota Fliegelman still found time to pick up an award.

The Preston High School freshman was honored last month with an EVOLVE Award for her high grades and her work at trying to encourage other children in the community to focus on education. The EVOLVE Award, which stands for Exceptional, Visionary, Optimistic, Leadership, Volunteerism and Education, is given out to between three and five girls annually by the Bronx Supreme Court.

“I felt pretty nervous because I had to give a speech, but I felt very honored that I was given that award,” said Dakota. “It opened up my eyes to all the new things I can do in my life. Many of my friends know I’ve gotten that award and they can look up to me in a way. It feels great to know that I can pass on what I’ve learned to other students so they can become as successful as I can.”

Dakota was one of three girls nominated by the Women’s History Month committee at the court system for the award this year. She caught the eye of Josephine M. Bastone, a special referee at the Bronx Supreme Court and chairwoman of the committee, two years ago when she wrote an essay about two slain police officers for whom her former middle school, Piagentini & Jones Intermediate School 92, was named.

The essay gained the attention of city Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and launched a ceremony that drew several officers from the 32nd precinct, family members of the two slain officers, several city officials and students.

“I read some of the report and I thought she showed a lot of potential, a lot of talent,” said Bastone. “I inquired more about her education, her hobbies and work ethic. I thought she was a young lady that has a lot of potential and I thought that should be encouraged.” Bastone added that Dakota’s most impressive quality is her focus. “She knows what she wants and she works for it. I think she could succeed in anything she tries.”

Although she has considered working as an attorney or veterinarian after she graduates from the Ivy League school of her choice, lately Dakota has been thinking more about becoming a doctor.

“I want to be a doctor and help the sick people,” she said. “My dad’s an EMT. He’s always telling me these stories about a sick person and how he’s taking their blood pressure. I’m not that good in science but I’m working my way up there. I really want to be a doctor so I can help.”

While Dakota said she finds a lot of inspiration from her parents, her biggest role model is her brother Hipolito Rodriguez III, who works at Con Edison.

“Even though he didn’t finish high school he became successful, he has a good job and he’s raising his family and I look up to him,” she said.

At least for this year, Dakota is not planning to win any more awards. She is content to continue encouraging those around her and improving herself.

“Between the research papers and all the homework, and managing softball and karate, it’s a lot to handle. But I manage,” she said. “I’m hoping that I make honors next year in school. I get honors if I’m recommended by all my teachers.”

Honors or not, this EVOLVE Award was one honor she’ll always remember.

Reach Max Mitchell at (718) 742-3394 or

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