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Face of the Week: Iqra Shafiq of Pikesville High School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. "Face of the Week" introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

Face of the Week: Iqra Shafiq of Pikesville High School

Iqra Shafiq graduates from Pikesville High this school year. Which is where the similarities with the rest of her classmates pretty much begin and end.

At 16, she is set to complete her high school requirements this month when she finishes a pre-calculus class. Technically, she is midway through her junior year, but thanks to a combination of night and online classes and summer school – and her own preference and determination – Iqra is among the few BCPS students to combine both her junior and senior high school years into one.

“I am very satisfied,” she says of her decision. “It’s what is right for me.”

When asked about her accelerated academics, Iqra’s words pour from her in a torrent. Her choice has not been easy, but she is right where she wants to be, finishing her high school career with a 3.5 grade point average and more than 125 hours of community service. This is, for her, just the right plan.

“Growing up, I was a quiet child, pretty much a loner, I’d say,” she says. “When I got to high school, it was all right, but it wasn’t right for me. I didn’t feel like I fit in here. I had a lot going on (emotionally), and I just couldn’t adjust.”

An older sister, Naghmana, had gone through a similar transition at Woodlawn High School and decided to try to graduate early to jumpstart her career and motivation. Iqra talked with her sister and family and mulled over the idea. She was a sophomore and spending all her spare time in the library, where she felt at home.

Then, a complication. In her 10th grade year, Iqra’s world stopped.

Her father, Mohammed, was arrested, tried, and sent to prison in Philadelphia. Suddenly, her family was on its own – her mother, Rashida Begum, looking after four children and, with limited English skills, managing the family business of six area convenience stores, and Iqra becoming depressed, anxious and worried about whether she would be able to see her plan through.

“My dad had always been there for me, and suddenly he wasn’t. He was the one main person I relied on – my dad was my rock – and now he was gone,” Iqra says. “How do you deal with that?”

Finding another rock

Iqra dealt with her father’s imprisonment poorly at first, staying away from school for a while and returning only to suffer anxiety and panic attacks, including once during an administration of the PSAT test.

But her father’s incarceration only strengthened her resolve. “I was most likely going to drop out if I didn’t do something, and dropping out wasn’t an option,” Iqra says. “I didn’t want to lose my motivation, either, so I gathered all the courage I had and I went and saw my counselors, and we worked out a way forward.”

Iqra, she decided, would become her own rock.

With the backing of her family and school, she restarted her goal of graduating early. It took a bit of convincing for Pikesville’s principal, Sandra Reid, to come around, she says; “she was taking a risk on me.” But since then, she says, “the school has been so supportive and helpful. They’ve wanted to make sure this was the right decision.”

By taking classes through the APEX program at Milford Mill Academy and through a combination of summer school and online courses, Iqra has completed requirements a few weeks at a time, courses that take most high school students semesters to complete. Throughout, she has worked closely with counselors at Pikesville, who helped craft her unique path to graduation.

“When we discussed her family’s situation, I completely understood why she wanted to complete high school in less than three years, and (that) made me want to (help) her even more,” says guidance counselor Yolanda Howie. “We worked together to create a plan of action and Iqra executed with ease and in record time. After she finished her first class in EDLP school (the BCPS Extended Day Learning Program) within a month, I was convinced that she is going to make this happen.

“I have only witnessed a few students who are so determined in spite of their circumstances,” adds Howie, who notes that Iqra recently brought the school’s entire counseling department breakfast as her way of saying thank you. “I could go on with how impressive this young woman is, but I think the words don’t do her justice.”

Growing up fast but strong

These days, Iqra begins each morning working her shift at Quarry Bagels and Café near her home, then usually heads home to study or attend her Florida Learning Virtual School online class. She still visits the library, her refuge from the world, and occasionally stops by school -- she enjoyed a Pikesville pep rally recently -- but she admits she’s “not that social.”

She’s not sure how graduation will work – she thinks she’ll just get her diploma in the mail or maybe from the school’s front office one day – but she sometimes daydreams about walking across a stage and accepting her diploma. “I always see myself crying,” Iqra says. “I think about being able to prove people wrong, people who maybe thought, ‘She’s not smart enough to do it,’ or who bullied me for not being smart.”

Iqra readily admits her path has changed her, and not always in happy ways. “Sometimes you have to grow up a little too fast,” she says. “You get to experience a lot in a short amount of time. But it’s a process, I think, that makes you stronger. And I’ve had to be strong.”

Her counselor, Yolanda Howie, agrees. “Iqra is an amazing young woman who is poised and confident beyond her years,” she says. 

Iqra’s next step is applying for college – Towson University and the University of Maryland are on her radar, and maybe Johns Hopkins University as a reach – with an eye towards majoring in her favorite subjects, biology and science. She hopes to become a hematologist someday and recently asked if she could shadow a hematologist at Sinai Hospital for a day.

For now, though, as she finishes her pre-calculus class and prepares for the world that awaits, Iqra’s days are filled with reminders and reflection. “You know, everything always came easy for me before my sophomore year,” she says. “But then I had to tell myself again and again, ‘It’ll be okay, even though everything is falling apart. I’ll get it done.’ And with motivation and support, I have.”

And then the most important reminder, a reflection of what once was and what will be again.   

“I’m doing all of this for my dad, you know,” she says. “He’ll be so proud of me.”       

Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to  

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