McCrabb: She was at rock bottom with a baby on the way. Then this school saved her.

Brooklynn Herald’s life was a mess.

She had been in and out of Middletown and Franklin school districts and the Warren County Career Center and appeared destined to be a high school dropout, joining the more than 1.2 million students who drop out of high school every year in the U.S.

She started smoking marijuana when she was 12. Several years later, she became addicted to methamphetamine and painkillers.

Living in a studio apartment she “fell in with the wrong people,” she said. They hung out and partied with marijuana, alcohol, anything they could get their hands on.

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“Surprised I lived through it, honestly,” said Herald, 20.

Then, 2 1/2 years ago, she was busted for drug possession, and three days later, Herald’s pregnancy test came back positive. The teen who couldn’t care for herself was about to be responsible for another human being.

“It was like rock bottom,” she said.

Then she fell more. Although she was pregnant, she continued smoking marijuana for two months, a decision she regrets. One day, she said, she had a panic attack.

“Please Lord help me through this,” she prayed.

That was the last day she touched drugs, she said. She knew it was time to grow up and be a woman, a mother to be unborn child. That meant earning her high school diploma.

“I need to make changes,” she told herself. “I didn’t want my girl saying, ‘You don’t have your diploma. Why do I have to go school?’”

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So Herald enrolled at Marshall High School, an alternative school in Middletown. The school's motto: "Empower students to earn a high school diploma by encouraging personal responsibility and inspiring all students to be successful and productive citizens."

Brooklynn Herald, the same student who had been lost, finally found a home.

“This is my place,” she said. “I looked forward to getting away and coming in here.”

That was three years ago, and on Friday night, Herald graduated during at ceremony at Berachah Church in Middletown. There were about 90 graduates, the largest class in the history of Marshall, which opened in 2014. Of those graduates, 15 were at least 20 years old, said Principal Chuck Hall.

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Throughout most of her time at Marshall, Herald focused on her daughter, Jolynn Creech, now 19 months old.

“She has been my motivation,” Herald said. “That little girl saved me. She makes me want to do better.”

Herald and her daughter live with her mother in Franklin. Herald works at Speedway in Miamisburg, and after she received her graduation paperwork, she was placed in the manager training program. One day, Herald envisions running her own Speedway.

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Graduating was the first step.

“A weight has been lifted,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m drowning constantly. All of those people who said I couldn’t do anything with my life. We can put that to rest.”

Hall said Herald optimizes what Marshall represents. They take students who struggle through the traditional school system, give them additional support and second chances. What others see as failures, Marshall sees as potential.

“You can’t give up on people, man,” Hall said. “They can still make better choices and turn it around. That’s what she did. She had obstacles in her life. She could have gone two different paths. She could have taken the easier route like many people do. Instead, she worked hard to help her daughter. That’s real rewarding for us.”

Herald was asked what lesson all of us can take from her mistakes.

“Even though you may think so, it’s not too late to figure your dreams and fix your life,” she said. “You got to want it. You have to want to quit drugs. You have to put forth the effort. You cant sit there and expect change.”

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