20 Grads: Finding a Home at Odyssey

20 Grads in 20 Days: June marks a huge anniversary in Connecticut. Twenty years ago this month, Governor John Rowland signed the law allowing public charter schools to exist in the state of Connecticut! To celebrate, we’re profiling 20 public charter school graduates every day for the first 20 days of June. Enjoy reading about our charter schools and the stellar kids they're educating.

Sarina Thomas was born and raised in Manchester, but her second home is Odyssey Community School.

“Odyssey is one of the best schools I’ve ever been to,” says Sarina. “At my old school, Bowers Elementary School, they focused on the CMTs all year long and didn’t let us learn at our own pace. Odyssey lets us learn at our own pace.”

The state recently replaced the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) with the Smarter Balanced Assessment, still, Sarina is grateful to attend a school that doesn’t revolve around testing.

“The curriculum they teach us is interesting and it engages us,” said Sarina. “The teachers here are all great, I feel comfortable going to them if I have a problem, or just saying hi and telling them to have a nice day.”

“Great” might be an understatement. As Sarina said later, “I love all my teachers.”

“My science teacher, Ms. Sill – she’s always been there. When she came to this school last year to teach 7th and 8th grade science, it was an automatic connection between us; we just clicked,” recalled Sarina. “She’s always pushed me to be the person that I want to be. Whenever I’m going through a hard time I know that I can go to her.”

“Mr. Lemert, my math teacher, he’s the funniest guy you’ll ever meet, especially with the crazy socks he likes to show off every day,” said Sarina. “He helps every kid one by one, so if they’re behind, he’ll make sure they understand the concept. He’s one of those people you can just walk up to and say, ‘I need help, can you explain this to me,’ and he gladly will.”

“Ms. Hartzog, my social studies teacher, knows how to help us have fun while we’re learning,” said Sarina. Her favorite project was around immigration. Ms. Hartzog split up the class, giving half of them jobs and citizenship, while others like Sarina were immigrants who couldn’t speak English and had to apply for work. “Physically going through the process of what we’re learning makes it fun and helps us understand more than we would otherwise,” Sarina continued.

“And my reading and writing teacher, Ms. Lavoie, she’s pushed me to be the author that I want to be,” said Sarina. “She’s taught so me many things about reading and writing, published some of my work, and has always been there to help me push through any problems I’ve had.”

Sarina doesn’t just have good relationships with her teachers. This year, she became president of the school’s Student Council, a goal she’d long-held. “In 4th grade when I came to Odyssey, I really looked to up to our school president,” said Sarina. “I knew I wanted that one day – looking at how the president and vice president worked together and how they got the opportunity to represent that school as a whole was fascinating to me.”

“Once you win, you’re like, ‘this feels really good,’ but you’re also thinking, I represent this school, I have to set a good example,” said Sarina. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Sarina excels in science class, and knows that she wants do some something in the field when she grows up. Currently, she’s thinking viro-hematologist, which is a scientist that studies viruses in the blood, but at the end of the day as long as she’s working in a lab in 20 years, she’ll be happy.

Along with science, farming and animals are a huge passion for Sarina. She works on her uncle’s alpaca farm with 26 alpacas, and personally owns a “whole herd” of bunnies.

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As she heads to high school, she’ll have some extra time to spend with the animals. Rather than go to Manchester High School, Sarina opted to take online classes next year at American High School.

“I’m pretty excited, I can work at my own pace and don’t have to feel time limited. I have the whole year to finish a grade, rather than just the school year, “said Sarina. “With this program, I can graduate high school in two and a half years if I work really hard. And in my second semester I can start AP classes, because I already have good grades.”

As always, she’s making the decision with the support of her parents: “My parents have always been there, 24/7, and I love them to death.”

The same applies to her teachers and friends at Odyssey. Though she’s graduating, she’ll keep in touch. Once a member of the Odyssey family, always a member the Odyssey family.

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Mike is the former Deputy Communications Director for Connecticut for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
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20 Grads: Finding a Home at Odyssey
20 Grads: Finding a Home at Odyssey
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