Sharina Fowler is in a class by herself.
More than one, actually.
A senior at Riverview Gardens High, Fowler is one of a small group of students who returned to learning in-person in March when the district opened up its doors. It was a welcome respite after nearly a year of being at home.
“The best way to learn is in person and get that hands-on experience,” Fowler said. “Virtual was OK. It’s not the high school experience.”
Riverview Gardens' Post-Dispatch Scholar Athlete, Fowler is enrolled in five advanced placement courses that range from trigonometry and calculus to English, composition and music theory. There are days she’s the only student physically in the room while others remain at home and use Zoom.
“Sometimes I’m the only person in class,” she said. “It’s not that bad.”
Fowler, 18, has done her best to navigate a senior year that has not gone anywhere close to how she hoped it would. A libero and setter for the volleyball team, the 5-foot-1 Fowler was one of many student athletes who did not get a season of any kind this school year. Riverview Gardens did not participate in fall sports or winter sports nor did it opt into the alternative season offered in the spring. Fowler had hoped to play soccer this spring, but the Rams didn’t have enough interested girls to field a team. That last hope of playing sports for her school was extinguished.
“It ruined my senior year,” Fowler said. “It sucks. It brings up a lot of emotion. I’ve been playing volleyball since sixth grade. I really feel disappointed.”
Fowler had plans for her senior year. Plans she’s been tinkering with since before she stepped on campus as a freshman.
Motivated by her mother, Sharita, Fowler is on a mission to break the generational curse she believes has beset her family. Later this month she will become the first person in her family to graduate high school. She has been accepted at Western Illinois University and has every intention of becoming the first college graduate in the family, too.
“My mom, she’s focused on education being everything,” Fowler said.
The first part of Fowler’s plan was to be a straight-A student as a freshman, become the No. 1 student in her class and go from there. When she received her first report card she had the grades she wanted but she ranked No. 7 in her class.
Fowler was shook.
“I learned that there are these things called honors classes,” she said with a laugh. “I asked what I could do to get what I wanted.”
With the help of science teacher Joseph Caldarola, Fowler began beefing up her schedule. She started with pre-advanced placement classes and over the years has transitioned into full advanced placement and honors classes. She’s currently No. 3 in her graduating class. It’s not the top spot she set out to achieve — but it’s close.
“At least I know I tried,” Fowler said.
When she’s not working toward the top spot in her class, Fowler holds down a regular gig at QuickTrip. It’s her second job after she started as a waitress at Steak 'n Shake.
While at Riverview Gardens, Fowler became involved with the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC). That experience has been influential on her. She would like to join the Navy upon graduating college. She then hopes to parlay that service into a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and train at its facility in Quantico, Virginia. After that she has visions of working for the National Security Agency.
“I’ve set this up, it’s been planned for quite some time now,” Fowler said. “Every move I’ve made has been to get there. Life is a game, it’s all about how you play it.”
It’s a game that has often been hard for her and the people in her community to play. Fowler is well aware of the inequities that surround her. She has wondered what it would be like to be a senator or to hold some other elected office where she would have the power to help make things better for her community.
“I do want to be within the system and change it,” Fowler said. “I want to be able to say I did something, that my life wasn’t a waste. I want to make an impact on the world.”