Submitted by Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications
Through trying times and constant moves during her childhood, Rasheenah Bartley leaned on the one constant, positive force in her life—school.
The 2012 McKinney Boyd High School graduate excelled despite facing an unstable living situation that included bouts of homelessness.
Her success earned her $20,000 from the Horatio Alger Association National Scholarship Program. The scholarship is given to promising young people who have overcome great adversity, have financial need and plan to use their higher education to help others.
Rasheenah credits the teachers she met through the district’s AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, college readiness program with helping her. She also benefited from the flexibility of the eHigh program, which allows students to take self-paced online courses.
When she appeared before the school board to be honored for her award, she tearfully thanked McKinney ISD. “Without AVID and eHigh and any of that I would not be where I am today,” Rasheenah, 17, told them.
Rasheenah first faced an unstable living situation in elementary school. She moved between foster homes, attending four elementary schools in the district. “I knew that my home life wasn’t OK,” she recalled. “Even at such a young age I used school as an outlet. I really embraced that. I took it as something I was going to be good at.”
By the time she attended Faubion Middle School, she had left foster care and was living with her mother and older sister.
She was invited to take part in the school’s AVID program, which is targeted to help students in the academic middle who would be first-generation college students.
“The teachers started taking personal interest and cared about what we were doing,” Rasheenah said. “They were going to do everything they could to help us.”
At McKinney Boyd High School, Scott Martin became her AVID teacher her junior year. “She had the toughest circumstances but she always performed the best,” he said. “Teachers gravitated toward her naturally. I just think teachers see her and they always think in their mind, I wish every kid had what she has.”
In February of her junior year, because of a difficult home situation, she moved to Princeton to stay with an aunt.
Adjusting to Princeton High School proved difficult. There was no AVID program. She worked long hours at Sonic, squeezing in study time wherever she could. The day before she took the ACT college entrance exam, she worked until midnight.
Although she was no longer enrolled in McKinney ISD, Rasheenah kept in contact with Martin, her AVID teacher, and Ashley Sine, a McKinney Education Foundation program advisor. Via email, over the phone and visiting in person they supported and counseled her.
“They were like mother and father to me,” Rasheenah said. “They made sure I was going to make it to college. They let me know they were there for me.”
Martin saw it as his role to continue to be a motivator for Rasheenah, reassuring her that she was highly qualified to receive scholarships.
“I had to constantly say there’s hope,” he said.
Sine worked with Rasheenah on identifying college scholarships, and then writing and editing the essays required to apply.
“Resilient students know where to find opportunities,” Sine said. “So many students can come to us for help but not carry out the advice and opportunities we hand to them, and this student can—and that’s what’s going to make her so successful.”
Then in January of this year, Rasheenah moved back to McKinney. Her first day back at Boyd, she was overjoyed to learn that she won the $20,000 scholarship.
But she didn’t have a stable living situation. She stayed with friends, relatives and sometimes even slept in a car. The school district classified her as homeless under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and she received some help that way.
Because Rasheenah faced uncertainties about where she would be living, her counselors arranged for her to finish out her course requirements for graduation through the eHigh program. She finished in February, so she could work to support herself.
In April, the Horatio Alger Association invited her to attend their National Scholars Conference, an all-expenses paid five-day trip to Washington, D.C.
Once there, she met other students who had gone through similar challenges. A member donated pearls to all the girls, and she was given a black dress to wear to the banquet. For the first time in a long time, she slept in a bed.
The attendees were also given laptops and iPads. She learned etiquette skills, took part in skits and toured the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.
“I was liberated because I went to this conference,” Rasheenah said.
She returned home to discover she had nowhere to live. She and her sister had been living in an apartment, but they were unable to pay their rent.
The Horatio Alger Association stepped in to help her find housing in Lubbock, near Texas Tech University. She continues to stay in touch with her McKinney ISD mentors.
Rasheenah wants to study biology on a pre-medicine track at Texas Tech, then study to become an obstetrician.
“I am strong enough to prove to myself that I have what it takes to reach every goal I set out to achieve in life,” she wrote in one essay. “I have not and will not let anyone take that away from me.”
Written by Katherine Leal Unmuth. This story is the eighth in a series of profiles on McKinney ISD graduates making a difference at home and around the world.
Photos: Top left, Rasheenah in McKinney; above right, Rasheenah with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.