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Sa’Brina’s family moved a lot, so she attended a string of regular and magnet schools in California and Indianapolis. Despite the disruptions, the work came easily to her. Because she could ace tests with little effort, and found the assignments uninspiring, she saw no reason to do her homework.
By middle school, her grades were “all over the map,” she says, and sometimes she skipped school or just got up and walked out of class early. “It felt like a waste of time,” says Sa’Brina, 16. “I knew the material and just felt like I was doing the same things over and over.”
Her home life grew more difficult when her parents separated and her mother had to be hospitalized for surgery. Sa’Brina had been put on probation for truancy, but spending time in the hospital when her mother was sick landed her in court for violating the probation.
As a result, she went back to an Indianapolis middle school with more stringent supervision. She was “on a tracking sheet,” in which her work and attendance in each class were closely monitored. It was “good to have someone keeping tabs on me,” she says, but she still found school boring and unchallenging.
With her mother’s blessing, Sa’Brina tried to get herself set up for a home schooling program when she was 14. She loaded up on books from the library and found resources on the Internet. But she found out too late that she was supposed to take annual tests to show her progress, and she worried that her work wouldn’t be accepted for credit.
She decided to enroll at Indianapolis Met, a charter school run by Goodwill Indianapolis that gives students more freedom to design their own courses of study. She’s working toward a diploma, and wants to work as a mortician to earn money for college, where she hopes to study architecture, accounting, and hotel management.
Sa’Brina wishes that more of her school years had been interesting to her. She imagines a social studies class where she and her peers could have acted out their own Civil War, instead of reading about it in a textbook.
Student Portrait by Tom Strickland for Education Week