BY CADY KUZMICH
CLIFTON PARK — “Tell me about yourself? There’s so much to tell I don’t know where to begin,” said 16-year-old Dana Barrett during our interview last week.
Like many high-achieving students, the Shenendehowa sophomore stresses over grades. “I’m looking for 90s. I’ve got ‘em so far and I’m going to keep them,” she said matter-of-factly.
Barrett’s composure and grace are beyond her years — perhaps because of the very hardships that could have broken her spirit.
At a young age Barrett was removed from her parents’ home in Hadley. She lived with her grandparents for a while before being put into the foster care system. It took two problematic matches before she was connected with the Rinebolts, her current foster family, which she has called her own for the last three years. She shares the home with her 14-year-old brother, Thomas. Andrea and John Rinebolt are both retired with children and grandchildren of their own. For 35 years John worked for the New York State Office of General Services and Andrea worked as a preschool teacher.
“It’s really hard but people have it worse,” said Barrett of her experience navigating the foster care system, court-ordered visits and fluctuating family dynamics.
Despite the instability of bouncing from family to family, Barrett is thankful that all her foster families were based in Clifton Park, allowing her to stay at Shenendehowa after the initial move from Hadley-Luzerne.
She recalled the transition from Hadley-Luzerne, which she said is “a really tiny school compared to Shen,” as somewhat scary. “My class is about 810 now. I don’t think the class size even reached 100 in Hadley,” she said.
These days, Barrett keeps busy with Youth Court and indoor track. Her foster father, John Rinebolt, was instrumental in her decision to join Clifton Park’s Youth Court. “My foster dad told me about it and I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to or not. He talked more about it to me and I sort of just went for it. I like it a lot.”
In the spring Barrett throws discus and shot put for Shenendehowa’s outdoor track team. In the winter she throws shot put and does “a little bit of weight throw.” She doesn’t compete in weight throw but enjoys doing it in practice.
While she still has plenty of time to consider what sort of path she’d like to venture down, Barrett is already looking into a future at College of Saint Rose in Albany, where she hopes to study either art or criminal justice.
She has taken two art classes — drawing and painting — which she loved but said required a lot of time and effort. This year Barrett is taking a black and white photography class. “I love it,” she said.
Barrett’s interest in law and criminal justice is another reason she was drawn to Youth Court.
She said “everything with foster care” sparked her interest in criminal justice and law. “Just going through all of this and going to court and seeing how it works with foster care…. I don’t want to work with foster care, just as a lawyer.” Barrett has plenty of time to decide which type of law she’d like to pursue, but is fairly certain that work in law will be in her future down the line.
Q & A with Dana Barrett:
CK: What is your favorite band or musician?
DB: That’s hard. I don’t have one, but I do listen to a lot of country music. I like Hunter Hayes, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.
CK: What are you most proud of?
DB: Getting through tough times and getting good grades. I did not start off in school with good grades or a good attitude but that changed since I moved here with these foster parents.
CK: If you had an extra hour in the day, what would you do?
DB: It all depends. If it was a school night and I had a big test or something, I would use it to study. I get very nervous and stressed out about my grades. Other times…I like spending time with my family. We have favorite shows. Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters and Finding Carter. Those are the three main ones I watch with my foster mom.
CK: What’s your favorite movie?
DB: I do have a favorite movie but it’s only really for one season. It’s Elf. I don’t know why I like the movie. I guess I just like that he’s so unaware of all the weird things he’s doing. He’s like a little kid. I love it.
CK: Do you have a favorite teacher?
DB: That’s really hard because I’ve always had favorite teachers. My step-dad used to call me teacher’s pet because I always loved the teachers. I’d say my favorite ones are the ones who helped me through a lot. At my old school in sixth grade, Mrs. Barber was my favorite teacher. Then there’s Mrs. Glasheen when I was in middle school. Sixth grade was really tough for me. I would be down to talk with my counselor a lot and she would always walk me down. I still talk to her today.
CK: What do you think of the presidential candidates? If you were old enough to vote, who would you vote for, if anyone?
DB: Definitely not Donald Trump. He just gets on my nerves so much. I haven’t really looked into all of them, but I see Donald Trump on TV a lot and I just don’t like how he presents himself…But Hillary Clinton isn’t my favorite either. I guess I don’t really have a favorite, but when it comes time to decide I will look more into it.
CK: What’s your favorite book?
DB: It’s called “Chasing Brooklyn” by Lisa Schroeder. It’s about a girl losing someone and she struggles with the loss. There’s this ghost that reminds her of that person. She struggles throughout the book but then she finds something to help her get her mind off of it.
CK: Who has had the greatest influence on who you are today?
DB: Definitely my current foster parents. They push me to work harder and they give me a reason to work harder. They make me feel like this is my home.