Driven by a desire to leave behind an unstable family life and be independent, Sabrina Canela decided early on that education would lead her to her goals.
So the summer prior to senior year at Mountain View High School, the Mesa 17-year-old researched scholarships, colleges around the country and what it would take to get in and get school paid for.
Her success is clear: Sabrina was offered $1.3 million in tuition assistance - none of which has to be paid back - from scholarships from the 11 colleges she was accepted into and private scholarships and federal grants.
Now, she's ready to fulfill her dreams.
"I knew if I did well in school I could get money for college and I knew that if I didn't get scholarships, I wouldn't be able to go," she said this week, preparing to visit her mom out of state. "I didn't want to be in the cycle of poverty my family has been trying to get out of. Whether we were poor or (it was) an idea constructed in my mind, I knew I didn't want to be part of that. I worked hard in school to not only get into college, but get college paid for. That's what drove me."
Sabrina currently lives with her dad, stepmom, sister and two half siblings. Her father immigrated to the United States from Mexico about 20 years ago and speaks some English. Sabrina's parents met in California, where her mom lived at the time, and moved to Arizona where Sabrina was born.
By the time Sabrina was 2, she was bilingual. Her parents are now divorced. Her dad works as a grounds keeper for a company in Tempe, which also offered Sabrina a scholarship for college.
In August, Sabrina will leave for Claremont McKenna College in southern California, making her the first in the family to attend college. She plans to enter a five-year program where she'll complete bachelor's degrees in environmental science and education and a master's degree in policy planning.
Sabrina's senior year of school included seven classes, four of which were Advanced Placement. She received As in all of them except AP physics, in which she got a B. Her final grade point average was 4.3.
She also found time in high school to earn a varsity letter in debate four years in a row and to volunteer for a number of groups, from tutoring students in English and Spanish to coordinating carnivals at an elementary school and organizing the Red Cross Christmas Angels program at school.
Lisa Creaser, Sabrina's Advanced Placement English teacher her junior year at Mountain View, described the ambitious teen as "driven." Creaser's course prepares students to take the AP exam, which can qualify for college credit.
"One thing that made her stand out is she knew from the beginning of the year she had to work hard. She knew from the day she walked into my door in August that she had to work consistently. She never had to play catch up. She was always right on or ahead," Creaser said.
Sabrina was also a willing participant during class discussions.
"She was never afraid to take risks. In class discussion she was never afraid to put herself out there and take a somewhat educated guess when we looked at pieces, essays and examples of nonfiction," Creaser said. If Sabrina's comments or answers were wrong, Creaser would correct her. "She ate that up so she wouldn't make that mistake."
Sabrina performed well on the AP exam for English composition, as well as other AP exams. She is negotiating with her college to receive the maximum allowed transfer credit before she even steps on to campus as a student.
"I have such large dreams for life," Sabrina said. "I intend on joining Peace Corps after college and start a project that allows me to go around and build sustainable schools in impoverished areas, not just outside the country but inside the country. I want to help impoverished areas in general.
"I understand the cycle people go through and the frustration that young people become a part of because they feel money will enslave them for the rest of their lives."