HANAHAN -- Brittany Barnett nearly threw a thick textbook at a teacher who called her out for chatting to a friend during a lecture. Nathan Fleck hit a student in the hallway so hard that teacher Melinda Toppin was afraid to have him in her class. Jycohia Ravenell came back to ninth grade with a baby and an attitude.
These kids weren't going to make it, not to graduation and maybe not anywhere else.
But on Thursday, the three were among 27 students from Berkeley County District schools who were honored for the scholastic accomplishment that might be the hardest to make, and the one that doesn't usually get the plaque. They changed their ways.
The district's 15th annual Turnaround Achievement Awards are a singular honor given by the district. They stem from a program developed in Florida that fell apart after a few years when funding collapsed. The district picked up the logo and the expense to keep it happening because these students are really something.
Barnett was "the class clown. I hung with the wrong crowd. I was trying to be more than I was, trying to fit in," she said. "I was rude, ignorant, I talked back." The only class credit she earned her freshman year at Stratford High School was for band. She had to repeat several grades.
Meanwhile, one by one, her crowd started dropping out. And suddenly, she was 20 years old and hadn't graduated. That hit her hard.
She got to work on her grades and became a police cadet. She wants to be a police officer because of the things she has seen around school that nobody in authority catches.
And one day, a teacher she had as a freshman called her out as a senior -- to praise what she had been able to do.
"It was embarrassing, but it felt good to know somebody had realized I grew up and changed," she said.
Fleck didn't care about school, just playing linebacker. When Toppin, an English teacher at Hanahan High School, saw the temper he flashed in a fight in the hallway with a student, she thought to herself, "Oh Lord, please don't let me have that child."
But Fleck showed up in her class a different person. He had moved out on his own, taken a 40-hour per week job, yet was tackling school. When she tries to convey a difficult concept to the class, he is the "I get it" student who turns to help others understand. He earned an A in English and is pushing to get his grade-point average up above a B, to make sure he becomes the first in his family to graduate and go to college.
"I'm always going to want to achieve more. I can't just settle," Fleck said.
Ravenell was in "an attack demeanor" at Cross High School, said guidance director Brenda Bines. "She gave her teachers holy hell," Bines said, and wouldn't make eye contact when called out on it.
"I went into labor in January and was out three months. When I got back it was a big old verbal dispute," Ravenell said. "I just got loose."
But Master Sgt. Bobby Matthews, the school's ROTC instructor, didn't back down. Between Matthews, Bines and Kerristan, her 15-month-old daughter, Ravenell began to find herself. She is a gifted student and is in the ROTC program. She wants to go to join the Air Force and eventually practice law.
"It's a big difference," Ravenell said. "I'm focusing now on my possibilities."