Junior Sanai Johnson found support, new challenges at South Bend school
When Sanai Johnson was considering high schools, Purdue Polytechnic South Bend had an immediate appeal because of its small class sizes and the ability to connect one-on-one with coaches — the school system’s preferred way to refer to teachers.
One of her instructors, Lisa Byrd, continues to stand out for Sanai because of her commitment to both Sanai’s academic and personal success.
“She made me realize that I belong at PPHS,” Sanai says. “I had moved from Texas from a much bigger middle school. So, when I got there, I didn’t really feel like I belonged. But Coach Byrd made me realize that I did.”
With the support and encouragement of her coaches, Sanai isn’t afraid of a challenge. One of the more unique ones has come through a cooking class that took on the theme of the TV show “Chopped.”
“Our coaches would give us a certain amount of ingredients that we had to make something with,” Sanai says.
Wondering what the toughest ingredient was that she had to work with? Bamboo shoots.
“We didn’t really know what to make out of that because it’s not something that we would normally cook with,” Sanai says. “We tried to make stir-fry. It just didn’t work.”
Chocolate chip cookies with cream cheese and a chocolate dipping sauce, however, turned out to be a triumph.
“It was really good,” Sanai says. “I think we won that week, actually.”
It’s not always going to be easy, but always ask questions.Sanai Johnson
PPHS Class of ’23
High school comes with its more traditional challenges, too. Sanai is currently taking precalculus and physics. Online classes mean that she can go at her own pace, but she’s quick to add that coaches are always available if she needs in-person support.
Sanai has also taken two dual-enrollment courses through a nearby university in northern Indiana — Introduction to Psychology and College Composition. As she looks forward to university, the psychology course helped pave the way for her long-term interests.
“I want to be a psychologist when I get older,” she says. “I enjoy helping people and making people feel better about themselves.”
Although Sanai is only a junior, she is graduating a year early. Being the first in her family to graduate from high school a year early, she says, is something that makes her proud.
Reflecting on the journey, Sanai credits her knack for research and willingness to ask questions as essential to her ability to overcome any obstacles. Again, she credits Coach Byrd.
“She taught me how to break stuff down to where you can search things for better results,” Sanai explains.
Asked for advice, Sanai encourages others with these words: “Learn how to manage your time well. It’s not always going to be easy, but always ask questions. Try to get close to at least one teacher. Make friends.”
When I first started going to PPHS, I had moved from Texas from a much bigger middle school. So, when I got there, I didn’t really feel like I belonged. But Coach Byrd made me realize that I did.Sanai Johnson PPHS Class of ’23