There are a handful of turnaround students (loosely defined as a student who sees drastic improvement in their grades) at Wenatchee High School, but none as impressive as senior Erika Drollinger.
Drollinger’s grade-point average jumped 3.4 points in the span of a year, and at the same time she went from being a juvenile delinquent to volunteering with elementary students.
Nowadays, Drollinger is extremely focused on her grades as a Running Start student, and dedicates quite a bit of time to DECA, an association of marketing students. But she wasn’t always that way.
“I wasn’t really that bad freshman year, I was just hanging out with some people who maybe weren’t really good influences,” Drollinger said. “Sophomore year was the really bad year, and I don’t really need to go into the kind of stuff I did. I mean, I got arrested twice. Altogether, I spent 30 days in juvie and the first time obviously didn’t impact me, cause I went back again.”
Drollinger attributes her behavior to basically one thing.
“I guess I felt too sorry for myself, that’s kind of why I made the choices I did before. I thought that I deserved things that a lot of other kids (had). I mean my car is $800. There are kids with really nice cars. I haven’t lived a super-privileged life, in comparison with some of the other kids at our school, and I took that the wrong way. And that was like the core of all of my problems was that I thought I deserved everything I wanted. So, I stole. I drank. (But) I didn’t do drugs.”
But then came Drollinger’s turning point. The summer before junior year she got in a big fight with her mom and moved out, living with her aunt and uncle instead. And that was when everything began to reverse.
“They pushed me really hard to get good grades,” Drollinger said. “My sophomore year my GPA was 0.457, and all my teachers hated me. And then junior year, I started DECA, lived with my aunt and uncle, and at the end of the year, I had a 3.9 GPA.”
But her aunt and uncle weren’t the only ones motivating her to improve her grades. The 180 that Drollinger’s lifestyle took was much a result of her own realization and, afterward, hard work.
“It doesn’t happen to everyone, but you just kind of realize that you have to make a change, and not everyone believes in God, but I really do, and I think that that kind of played a big part in wanting to change.”
Drollinger still doesn’t live with her mother — instead she now lives with her boyfriend of one and a half years— but she and her mother have been able to reconcile their relationship.
“Moving out of my mom’s house has given me so much more perspective into how hard she’s worked. She’s a single mom, and she got her master’s (degree) when my sister (sophomore Rachel Drollinger) and I were in middle school, and we’re both high-maintenance kids,” Drollinger said. “She was really strict, so anytime I hung out with my friends I was basically sneaking out. I see now that she wasn’t doing those kinds of things because she wanted to oppress me, which is how I saw it before. She just really wanted the best for me and my sister and couldn’t give us the best money-wise, so she’d be strict on us because she wanted us to be able to grow up and to be able to provide those things for ourselves.”
Drollinger is quite involved with the DECA program at WHS. Last year she attended the national competition, and placed fourth in the Restaurant and Food Service Management division. She and sophomore Kori Martin took on an entrepreneurship promotion program through DECA where they are in charge of a group called Kids for Wenatchee that runs twice a week at Mission View Elementary.
“We talk about business and teach them what an entrepreneur is, and how you can be one, and about distribution and profits and all that kind of stuff,” Drollinger said. “At the end of the month, they get to apply what they learned by running their own business down at Pybus (Market) for a few hours. We use the community kitchen and sell cocoa, cider, coffee, and baked goods that we get donated to us from local businesses. Our promotion project is due next week, but we’re just going to run it through the rest of the school year because it’s just really fun to work with the kids.”
Next year, Drollinger plans to study economics, and then continue to law school after that. One day she hopes to combine her love of business with a love of arguing and become a corporate lawyer.
“I’ve applied to some pretty good colleges, and I don’t know what my chances are of getting accepted, but I do know that a lot of colleges look at turnaround kids,” Drollinger said. “I’d say 0.457 to 3.9 is a pretty good turnaround. If I don’t get accepted to them I’ll just go to Wenatchee Valley College.”
Math teacher Tom Baumeister, who had Drollinger in class during her junior year, was impressed with the initiative she showed after deciding she wanted to change, and attributes that improvement to attitude.
“She finally decided ‘I’m tired of getting D’s,’” Baumeister said. “I liked that she recognized her error and turned it around. From the worst to the first, she fits all of the cliches you can think of.”
At this point, digression on Drollinger’s part is not an option.
“When I wake up every morning, the thing that inspires me to keep pushing myself, and not let myself go back to slacking off in school is just the thought that life is really short,” Drollinger said. “And so I want to do as much good in the world that I can before I die. I’ve already done enough bad, I don’t need to do any more.”
Marit McQuaig is managing features editor for The Apple Leaf, the student publication at Wenatchee High School.