Julia Johnston, left, a teacher in the Wayfinder Schools’ Passages program, works Monday afternoon with student Brianna Robinson on a homework project at Robinson’s kitchen table in Auburn. In the background, Robinson’s son, Cylas, is being put in a stroller for a walk to the store with Robinson’s sister. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — When I was in fourth grade, I reached college level reading. My first favorite book was “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, I carried a thesaurus with me like most children would carry a common pencil bag and I had the wildest dreams of becoming the next J.K. Rowling. 

When we are kids, we are taught the importance of a proper education. Go to school, get good grades, excel in projects and sports and social activities, but we are never told how hard it can be to get there. Nobody tells you how often you stay up late at night, questioning yourself and your worth while you watch your peers excel.

One of my fondest memories was when my family and I had first moved into our home in Auburn. It became my beacon of light, where I had my very own room to play school with my sisters. I had an easel, desks for them to sit at, notebooks to grade papers, the works.

It truly fostered my dreams, to feel important and smart, to be seen in a way that I could be proud of myself for. I became encompassed in the idea that one day, I too could be a remarkable author who allowed young girls like me to escape into a world of their choosing, with little to no consequence. 

After my mother and her ex-husband split up, we fell into financial hardship. Not the normal kind of hardships, but the really nitty-gritty — not having a bed to sleep on, going to foodbanks twice a week so we could eat — kind of hardships.

Brianna Robinson sweeps the kitchen floor Monday afternoon in her Auburn apartment as Wayfinder teacher Julia Johnston, left, logs onto her computer so they can go over homework. Pets, relatives and children all millin around are a bit distracting but not bothersome. Robinson’s son, Cylas, tries to climb over the security gate before her husband, Storm, scoops him up to play so the others could do their work. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

After a while, I became academically discouraged. It’s easy for you to lose yourself when you’re told over and over again “I’m not sure why you care so much,” or “Why bother?” With every positive step I took, I felt I was dragged another five steps back.


Because of this, I truly lost track of what I wanted in life. Being so focused on my home life, I felt I didn’t have room for homework or general studies. My day-to-day life just blurred together, and before I knew it, I was dropping out. 

I tried for years to rekindle the flame of my inquisitive spirit. I stayed late after school to get homework done, I did extra credit projects to make up for the ones I had missed out on earlier in the year, and I regularly attended the Boys and Girls Club in Auburn, which had a study group that I was supposed to be involved in. Instead, I used it as a safe place to be with my friends.

For a long time I carried a sense of sadness around with me. I put myself in a little box labeled “never to graduate,” and convinced myself that’s where I would end up staying. Just a girl working a 9-to-5, making sure her babies are fed.

Surely though, miraculous things happen in this world. Roses do bloom from concrete, just as I did when I joined the Wayfinder Schools’ Passages program. It’s like a fog simply lifted from my vision one day, and I realized this is not who I want to be anymore. I can do this. For me and for my boys.

After years of hard work and self criticism, on June 8, 2022, my jagged path to a cap and gown is coming to an end. Finally, I will be making a speech on stage in front of my loved ones, holding a diploma, and wearing a smile.

Not only have I learned so much about academics and the world itself in this program, but I have absolutely found myself again. I’m rooting for myself to keep going, and pursue the dreams I never thought possible, even though I didn’t take the traditional route of education. You can, too.

Brianna Robinson dropped out of Lewiston High School her sophomore year. After graduating from Wayfinder Schools this June, she plans to study forensic science at Central Maine Community College in Auburn.   

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