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When Sabrina, 18, failed geometry in 10th grade, her academic life began to unravel. She was a top student in middle school, and did fine her freshman year at a big Indianapolis high school. But she couldn’t get help when she struggled in mathematics her sophomore year.
“I asked the teacher, who said to ask my counselor about tutoring,” she says. “The counselor said I couldn’t get tutoring because they had to do all the juniors and seniors first.”
She says she asked her math teacher for help repeatedly, but he was available only after school, forcing her to miss her bus and have no way home for several hours. She found it hard to get extra help in other subjects sometimes, too.
“One teacher told me it didn’t matter if I learned it, because he’d still get paid,” Sabrina says.
Meanwhile, Sabrina was getting into fights with a group of girls who had been harassing her about a boy she was dating. Fearful that her failure in geometry would cause her to fail all future math courses, and repeatedly suspended because of the fights, she dropped out midway through her sophomore year.
She watched daytime soap operas with her father, a nursing assistant who worked evening shifts. But soon she got sick of that and started to worry she would end up trapped in low-paying jobs like her mother, a YMCA assistant with a General Educational Development credential.
“I sat home thinking I should’ve just stayed [in school]—now all that I worked for is just wasted,” she says. “It was so frustrating.”
Then, a flier arrived in the mail announcing the 2004 opening of Indianapolis Met, a charter school run by Goodwill Indianapolis that lets students design meaningful projects as the basis of their curricula. Sabrina enrolled and is working toward a diploma.
“I have such a good, supportive group here,” she says. “It’s easy for me to come to school because I can talk to anyone here and I know I’m not going to have any problems.”
Student Portrait by Tom Strickland for Education Week