Saturday, May 26, 2018
Education

Blake High student stages a senior year turnaround

TAMPA

For some students, things fall apart for no reason at all. • Rodrionna Harris, 18, says she was just lazy. She slipped out the side door of her high school after attendance most days for the first three years. She spent her days at the mall or watching TV with friends. • A day before her senior year at Blake High School, she met with a guidance counselor in the school library. • She was worried that she wouldn't start the year as a senior. Her troubles went beyond that. She had collected just 9.5 credits toward a high school diploma, and her GPA was 1.3. • Things didn't look good, the counselor said.

She needed 14.5 more credits, including four English and four math classes.

Her options: a dropout prevention program or a GED track.

Nicole Posante told her daughter she wouldn't graduate. Posante wanted her to enroll in the dropout prevention program.

There was a final option, the counselor said. Pack her school day and spend her evenings and weekends online in the Florida Virtual School.

Harris wanted to walk across a stage to get her diploma.

She would make up the classes, she told her mother, if only to prove her wrong.

Rodrionna had been a good kid before high school, her parents said. She was a straight A student at the law magnet at Franklin Middle School and enrolled in all the extracurricular programs and had planned to be a lawyer.

But in ninth grade, she wanted to be a cool kid. Too cool for school.

Every other week she had an in-school suspension, she said. Her parents didn't know she was falling behind until the end of her sophomore year.

Her father had a hunch something wasn't right.

But she continued to struggle through her junior year. She fought with her mother. Her father pulled back his affection. He wanted her to see what she was giving up.

She was selfish in those years, she said. But seeing her family's disappointment caused a change of heart.

"I know I have let my parents down," she said. Family is important to Rodrionna, she said. She has two younger sisters and an aunt and grandmother who have always believed in her.

"When your grandmother gives you that look — it's a look you can't even describe."

Her mother was at her wits' end, but her father never gave up on her.

"She has my heart," said Julio Douglas. "She's like my daughter and my friend. I told her you can do it. You can turn this around."

That day last August, she enrolled in honors classes and throughout the school year, every two weeks, she met with her guidance counselor, Daniel Driscoll, to assess her progress. At first Driscoll thought she would be a challenge. But she followed through every step. She took core classes instead of electives and studied an hour and a half every night and all day on the weekends. She took her laptop to church and studied in the back pew.

She raised her GPA to 2.25, and expects it to be higher when final grades are done. She plans to go to Bethune-Cookman University and one day be an FBI agent.

In a speech nominating her for the school district's Turnaround Achievement Awards, Driscoll wrote:

"As we all know, one of the most difficult aspects of being an educator is that we often do not see the end product like other occupations enjoy. We don't get to drive by and tell our kids, 'I helped build that house.' Or 'I helped start that company.' Rodrionna has given me a glimpse of what that final product will be. She will be a success."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.

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