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‘I Take Gift Cards to Starbucks, Target, Dunkin’: High School Student Exposes Science Teacher for Allegedly Swapping Grades for Gift Cards; Several Students Reportedly Took the Deal

The Philadelphia School District has launched a probe into allegations that a teacher at one of its most notable high schools told students she would change their grades for gift cards.

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According to a junior at Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts, her science teacher Samira Mack, 25, gave her a low C at the end of the most recent marking period. The teen approached the educator and asked how she could raise the 70 to a B, and was shocked by the response she received.

In an exclusive interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, the student recalled the conversation, saying, “I said, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ and she said, ‘I take gift cards to Starbucks, Target, Dunkin’, etc.,” adding that she would raise the girl’s grade by five points for every $10 gift card she received.

Mack allegedly made this same offer to other students, whom the student said confirmed that they paid for the grade boosts.

The third-year student wanted an 80, so she would have had to gift the teacher $20 from one of the stores she named. She didn’t do it, but understood why others did.

“Most of them were scared of failing, or their parents finding out. When your teacher tells you that’s your only opportunity, some people would do anything to fix their grades,” the student said.

The teen, whose name is being withheld because she is a minor, went home and told her mother.

After hearing of the teacher’s alleged offer, the mother immediately reported the act to CAPA principal Joanne Beaver, city officials and state authorities, filing a formal complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Monique Braxton, the Philadelphia School District spokesperson, said the action was immediately taken once the allegations were made known, stating if what has been alleged is actually true, this “would be a violation of the implementation of our grading policy.”

Disciplinary matters have been confidential, with not even Mack knowing how extensive the investigation is going.

The reporting student and her mother said while they don’t know the details, they were told on Wednesday, Jan. 25, that the Morgan University graduate gave the students back the gift cards — asking if anyone had shared information about the exchange with the principal.

“She said, ‘If I don’t end up getting fired, I might just quit,’ ” the student said.

The next day, a substitute teacher had been hired to teach Mack’s class in her absence.

Mack is a relatively new teacher. She was a recent graduate from Morgan State University in Baltimore and received her master’s degree from West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in May 2022. As a student, she received the Pennsylvania Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship as an outstanding STEM scholar.

Months later, in August 2022, she received an emergency certification to teach high school-level biology.

The student’s mother said it is countercultural for her to speak out against another person, but she had to.

“We live in a ‘don’t snitch culture,’ [but] if I hadn’t done this, this woman would still be collecting gift cards. This is bullying, this is illegal. You don’t get to keep your job for extortion,” the mom said.

Mack was contacted about the incident and said, as she awaits the outcome, “I’m not speaking to anyone right now.”

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