Robinson High School senior Erin McGuire can name all the schools she has attended during the past 12 years.
It just takes her a while to do so.
Her list includes eight schools in four states and Italy in 11 years. That's a high number even for someone like Erin, whose father is an Army brigadier general. Robinson is her ninth and final stop.
"Trying to fit in is never easy, but it definitely gets easier," said Erin, 17. "I'm okay with being the new kid now. I've accepted it and I've done it so many times, it's kind of second nature."
While Erin mastered the art of being "the new kid," she also may have become a pioneer for the children of military personnel by becoming one of the first junior transfers to enroll in the Hillsborough County School District's International Baccalaureate program.
As school became more challenging and her grades more important to her future, the differences between academic programs at each of her high schools became more pronounced.
When Erin and her younger brother, Patrick, now a sophomore, learned they'd be moving to Tampa last summer, there was little doubt Patrick would be accepted into Robinson High School's International Baccalaureate program. The outlook wasn't clear for Erin, who attended a global studies magnet school in North Carolina and missed out on pre-IB courses Robinson students take as freshmen and sophomores.
The administrators originally said they don't usually accept transfer students into IB but she and her parents kept asking about it, Erin said.
There are about 2,000 students enrolled in the IB program at four high schools across the county, according to Hillsborough school officials. Eighth-graders who wish to join the program must submit an application with their test scores and a writing sample, but not all are accepted. Those who are must complete a challenging curriculum and show proficiency through projects, essays and standardized exams in order to graduate with an IB diploma.
Before the McGuires arrived, this information dissuaded most transfer students from trying to join the program. But Erin still wanted in, even after plenty of warning about the difficulty of what she was attempting.
On the last day of summer break, she learned that she would be the first Robinson student allowed to join the program as a junior.
"In the IB program you don't get new students," Erin said. "I was literally the only new student, sophomore through senior year. So everyone was leery that they were making this change, but it turned out to be great."
Well, mostly great. Since she didn't know she would be taking IB classes until the day before school started, Erin had not begun any of the summer work assigned to the other students. She spent the first week of school completing the work everyone else had already finished. In one class, she was the lone junior in a class of sophomores, and in some (particularly chemistry) she found that there were concepts the other students had mastered that had not been part of the curriculum at her previous schools.
She admits there were "many, many days" when she wondered why she had pushed to get into the program.
"I realized what the pre-IB program was for, and I didn't have that," Erin said. "So initially I was thrown into the deep end of the IB program. But after a while I found my footing and kind of caught up with everyone."
Gary Brady, the Robinson assistant principal for IB curriculum, made sure Erin knew what was expected from IB students. He was impressed by how she handled the challenging workload.
"We monitor all of our students and speak formally and informally with them," Brady said. "During lunch I would stop by to talk to her, and I saw that she's very focused and driven and that she was doing very well."
Erin credits her teachers and the Robinson staff for much of that success, but says she probably wouldn't have questioned the policy that limits transfer students' access to IB if her parents, Timothy and Susan McGuire, hadn't encouraged her to do so.
Erin also hopes that her effort opens the program to other new students. Her mother has already received emails from other Tampa-bound military parents who want to know if their children will be able to get into the IB program.
But right now, classes, IB and otherwise, are not part of her daily life. Erin is working at the Boys & Girls Club this summer as part of the Bank of America Student Leaders Program. She gets to see every aspect of how nonprofits function but it's also a hands-on job making sure none of the kids do any permanent damage to themselves or others.
She says she only learned about the program two days before the application was due and filled it out assuming she wouldn't be picked.
"I didn't actually think I would get it, so I did the six or seven essays two nights before it was due, and it was very stressful," Erin said. "I just knew I wanted to try, and I didn't think I would get it. But I'm really glad I did."
Contact Victoria Jacobsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442. Follow @TwitrlessVicky.