In August 2021, as my peers were beginning their first year of high school, I was out of the country with no way to come back and join them in time. I missed the first unit of all my freshman year classes, and I was pretty much convinced that I was not going to be able to catch up — that I should just give up.
Flash forward to today — a little over a year later — and I am successfully balancing the academic pressures of AP courses and PSAT prep, maintaining a high GPA, participating in extracurricular activities such as basketball, and holding a leadership position as the student government vice president of finance.
Upon my return to school, I encountered a community of teachers who genuinely cared about me and my success. Beyond my grades, they cared about the habits that I was building and took a personal interest in the type of person I was becoming. Off the bat, Mr. Rojas, my principal, had extremely high expectations — and he held me to them. He introduced me to a concept called “natural consequences.” He helped me realize that my own actions would either propel or hinder my success. SA high school focuses on preparing students for highly selective colleges, and this understanding of natural consequences plays a big part in that.
From left to right: Associate Dean Ronda Ramos, Haneef Maliki, and Principal Dan Rojas
My dean, Ms. Ramos, helped me to build discipline and drove me to become a better person. I was a mediocre student who frequently talked out of turn. Rather than just telling me to do better, Ms. Ramos frequently sat with me and talked through the bad habits that were blocking my success. She gave me advice that would help me both in and out of school, such as time management and being friends with the right people. She encouraged me to get involved in extracurriculars like basketball.
Through the encouragement of leadership and teachers, I shifted my mindset surrounding school. I started going to office hours, began completing my assignments earlier, and changed my study habits. I went from being a student who wanted to give up in the face of an obstacle like missing the beginning of the school year, to one who realized that strategic study habits, pride in my work, and determination could get me back on track.
I began to think about high school as preparation for the real world. I realized that being proactive and completing my work is not just a school thing — as I get older and get a job, I will need to submit high-quality work in order to show my manager what I can do. If I am not working hard, people will underestimate my abilities.
I ultimately realized that by not doing my best, I was only hurting myself. I believe that if I put in my best and try my hardest to have a strong work ethic and good discipline, it will continue to bring me success. To earn a scholarship and go to college is my ultimate goal — and thanks to those who have my back, I’m confident that I can do it.
Haneef Maliki is a 10th grade scholar at SA High School of the Liberal Arts – Harlem