Only a few kids in the fourth-period girls’ PE class noticed the new student. She had long black hair and mahogany eyes, and she sat by herself in the bleachers, staring curiously at the other girls in their shorts and T-shirts doing jumping jacks and push-ups. It was September 11, 2017, and after two weeks of cancellations caused by Hurricane Harvey, classes had resumed at Texas’s Santa Fe High School, some 35 miles south of Houston.
Just one student approached. She had straw-blond hair and turquoise eyes, and she wore a blue T-shirt with a Bible verse, Matthew 4:19, printed on the front: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The girl with the blond hair smiled. “I’m Jaelyn,” she said.
The girl with the black hair smiled back. “I’m Sabika.”
Jaelyn told Sabika her full name was Jaelyn Cogburn. She was 15 years old, a freshman, and new to the school, so she didn’t know many people. Sabika said her full name was Sabika Sheikh, and she was a foreign exchange student from Pakistan. She was 16, a junior. She didn’t know anyone at all.
The bell rang, and Jaelyn and Sabika moved on to their other classes. At the end of the day, Jaelyn hurried out to the parking lot, where her mother, Joleen Cogburn, was waiting. “Mom,” Jaelyn asked, “where’s Pakistan?”
Despite its proximity to Houston, Santa Fe, with a population of 13,000, feels like a small town. Deeply conservative, the town attracted national attention in 2000 when school officials appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend their practice of conducting public prayers before football games. (They lost.)
Joleen and her husband, Jason Cogburn, live with their six children (three of whom are adopted) on three and a half acres in a comfortable two-story home. Every Sunday, the family attends Santa Fe Christian Church. Joleen has homeschooled all the children, following a Bible-based curriculum.