When Nadi Sambrana talks to young people about the importance of working toward their high school diplomas, she doesn’t deliver a lecture and ask them to accept it. She urges them to do their own research.
“Don’t just listen to me,” she says, encouraging them to talk to adults who are trying to make their way in the world without a diploma. “Just ask them how hard life is. If you don’t work on yourself, life gets harder.”
But for Sambrana and her fellow educators at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies, hundreds of young people would join the ranks of high school dropouts, giving up their best chance for moving on to college, trade school, military service and well-paying careers. At MDAA, they find the encouragement to forge a more promising path.
Born in Nicaragua, Sambrana came here at age 11 with her mother and sister. Her mom wanted the bigger opportunities the United States had to offer, going into sales and proudly driving a pink Cadillac. Unlike many of the students who come to MDAA, Sambrana had a positive experience in traditional high school.
“It was amazing,” she says of her experience at Miami Senior High. “I loved my teachers.”
A strong student, she graduated just after her 17th birthday and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She had planned to become a police officer but couldn’t because she didn’t have her American residency yet. At MDAA, she’s found a way to channel her spirit of public service into helping young people lay the foundation for successful adult lives.
She has worked with honors students; “They’re very easy to work with. They like school and do the work.” But her heart is with the ones who’ve found frustration in traditional settings. “I want to break that bond they have from the negative side of school to the positive side.”
Many of her graduation candidates are also immigrants, coming to Florida from countries including Colombia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Mexico. In addition to learning in a language different than their native tongue, they have to make the transition into a public education system that’s unlike the one they knew.
As they are building their English skills, Sambrana will often help them translate study materials. “Once you help them translate, they have so much knowledge.”
A compact woman with gentle eyes, Sambrana is a quiet powerhouse. When graduation candidates need her to help them work through academic challenges or overcome personal ones, she’s there — 7 days and week and sometimes deep into the night.
“If you come home from work late and want to take a test, I won’t say no,” says Sambrana. “I like to help them. As long as they do their work, I’ll be there.”