In the past year, Summer McElroy's life has changed dramatically.
Over the last 12 months, she's gotten a second chance, and will receive both her certificate of completion at Gateway High School and a Carroll County Public Schools diploma.
"I went from not going to school to dropping out and graduating all in the same year," McElroy, 18, of Taneytown, said.
McElroy's last year in high school was spent in Gateway, which according to its website, is "an alternative educational setting designed to assist high school students to have successful school experiences." She graduated at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 30, at the Scott Center in Carroll Community College.
For McElroy, life at Francis Scott Key High School was a struggle. There was a lot of drama and bullying, she said. But ultimately, the decision to drop out of school came from challenges at home.
"We had ups and downs with my mom and dad," she said.
At this point, she said, she and her siblings are living with their grandparents. But prior to living with extended family they spent time in foster care, and McElroy said she dropped out to take care of her five siblings. She's the oldest of six children.
"It was rough, but I did it," McElroy said, adding that she's very close with her siblings.
McElroy said the second- and third-oldest are 14 and 11, and the youngest are 7, 6 and 3. She works to set a good example for them all — especially the two oldest girls — and offer guidance and advice.
"I tell them what's right and what's wrong, and what to do and what not to do," she said. "I told them not to drop out, so I hope they don't to that."
That leadership, and her ability to relate to children in a mentoring role, are skills that have continued to grow during her time at Gateway, Heather Mackie, a teacher at the school, said. Mackie oversaw McElroy over the last year while she was a part of the morning announcements.
During announcements, students took on different roles from producer to reporter to camera person to weather person, she said. McElroy did the weather each week, Mackie said.
"She's done a great job," Mackie said.
McElroy has flourished in multiple ways since coming to Gateway, Mackie said. She's in a peer mentor group, where students at Gateway and Crossroads Middle mentor students in the PRIDE program at the elementary level. She's respectful, she wants to do well and she is responsible, Mackie said.
Simply put, she said, McElroy is a leader in the building.
"She's gone from like barely talking much in the beginning of the year to just completely social, being in the talent show [and] singing in front of everyone," Mackie said.
McElroy planned to sing "I Believe I Can Fly" at Wednesday's graduation ceremony. McElroy said she loves to sing and has been singing since she was about 6 years old. Up until this year though, she said, she had never performed in front of anyone.
Mackie said Gateway helps students gain the skills and confidence they'll need when they leave and go out into the real world. For McElroy, Mackie said, all she has learned will take her to "so many places."
"I don't think when [McElroy] came here that was the thought. She didn't feel as worthy," Mackie said. "[Her time at Gateway has] just built her esteem and the more she accomplishes the more she knows how successful she can be and she gets that success from all of the leadership and the activities she does here."
After school, McElroy said she hopes to get a job.
Ideally, she said, she wants to get a job as a floor installer, because it's something she's good at. She started learning how to do that type of work when she was about 15, when her dad took her to work with him and taught her "everything he knows."
She said she's grateful for her time at Gateway, because she's made friends who care about her.
"I like the friends I've made at this school. They're a lot better than my home school friends. You can trust them," McElroy said, later adding, "This school's great. This school helped me so much."
How many graduating: 21
How many going to a four-year college: 2
How many going to a two-year college: 6
How many going to a technical school: 2
How many going into the military: 1
How many are joining the work force: 9