Two years ago, Naysha Powell needed a lot of things. At the top of her list was a school.

Before that year, Powell had attended a high-performing charter school in Newark. Privately, she was still reeling from the murder of her older brother a few years back, which had sent her mother on a downward spiral and led Powell into foster care. At school, she strained under the exacting rules and heavy workload and was held back twice. Then she became pregnant.

A 15-year-old eighth-grader, she switched to a traditional school in neighboring East Orange, where she lived. Hours before eighth-grade graduation, she gave birth to her son, Kameron.

Now with her child’s future to consider along with her own, she was determined to get a high school diploma. But the high school in East Orange felt like an extension of the middle school she didn’t like, and getting a GED seemed like a cop-out. “I’m too smart for this,” she thought.

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