Graduating senior Briana Smullin not only crossed the stage Wednesday evening at Gateway School’s certificate ceremony, but also said goodbye to the family she gained along the way.
Smullin moved around a lot since she was a young child, as a result of being bounced around the foster care system, but once she found her way to Gateway in Westminster, that changed.
“Briana is a remarkable young lady,” said Christina Krone, Smullin’s guidance counselor. “She has been moved around quite a bit throughout her childhood and even toddler age, and even as recent as high school. She was in and out of the foster care system, sometimes with family, sometimes not. She came to us because her sister resided in Carroll County.”
Smullin transferred to Gateway from Benjamin Franklin High School in Baltimore city. Gateway is an alternative educational setting. Students are able to earn credits to apply toward promotion and graduation, according to the school’s website.
‘Briana is very involved’
Her stable home isn’t the only thing that changed when Smullin came to Carroll County — so did her personality and her life at school.
“Since she’s been here — it’s like a family to her,” Krone said. “She feels very comfortable; she grew a lot with us. We saw a quiet, reserved young lady, and now she is full of energy, smiling, vibrant, great attendance, she’s a hard worker.”
Before attending Gateway, Smullin said, she didn’t have the best grades.
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 started off horrible. I missed so much school that it was impossible for me to graduate,” Smullin said, reflecting on her time at Benjamin Franklin High. “When I went to Gateway, I got A’s and B’s for the first time in my life.”
Smullin said she is very shy, but that didn’t stop her from serving as vice president of Gateway’s Student Government Association for the past two years.
“I was one of the first members,” she said. “It helped me get used to people, step out of my comfort zone. I would go and speak in front of people, which I could never do before.”
“It’s just really calm,” Smullin said of her artmaking. “I don’t know, there’s just something about it.”
‘I was in foster care’
“When I was younger, I was in foster care,” Smullin said. “I was living with my grandmother, then she got sick and I got put back into the system. I lived with my aunt then got kicked out of there, lived with my sister — that’s when I moved to Carroll County — but I got kicked out of there not too long ago.”
After Smullin left a situation she described in negative terms at her aunt’s home, she said she also couldn’t stay with her sister because she would force her to watch her children.
“I was homeless for like a couple weeks,” Smullin said. “Then Ms. Krone contacted one of her good friends, and that’s where I am now.”
While she was homeless, she stayed with some friends in Carroll County and some family in Baltimore city, she said.
“They’re just like my parents,” she said. “They’re the parents I never had. They’re there for me all the time. They encourage me to do what I enjoy doing and what I want to do and to stay on the right path.”
Smullin said she found out recently that her mother died a year ago. She doesn’t know where her father is.
‘She wants to make something of herself’
Smullin is one of 26 students graduating from Gateway. Of the 26 students, 11 are going into the workforce, two into the military, 12 to a two-year college and one to a trade school.
After graduation, Smullin said she would like to attend Carroll Community College to study to become a paramedic.
“She makes good decisions,” Krone said. “She’s seen a lot in her brief lifetime, but she’s making good decisions. She wants to go down a good path, she wants to make something of herself, she wants to be independent.”