Transition from a troubled adolescent to star student

“I was scared of hiking and water rafting. I was so scared I was screaming ‘I want my mom!’ But it showed me how to be a leader. If you are not uncomfortable, you are not doing anything. This whole year I was uncomfortable, but if you are too comfortable it means you are only doing the same things over and over again.

Chris White calls Jessica, who was the highest performing girl in his class last year, “the best role model we have. She’s very conscientious and helps the other kids; you can see that the other girls look up to her.”

During the Utah trip Chris (Mr. White) said he trusted Jessica like an adult. Even if she was scared of doing something, such as white water rafting, he said she met the challenge head on. “Nine times out of ten in situations like this kids see the metaphorical mountain and shrink from it, instead of pushing through like Jessica.”

A notable academic success for Jessica came when she was awarded “student of the month” in her junior year. The principal called her name during an assembly in the school auditorium and “I was so happy and I couldn’t stop smiling,” laughs Jessica. “I showed my mom I got student of the month! And she was so happy as well. Now she brags about me all the time.” Jessica’s last report card had a 91 average.

None of this would have been possible, she says, in a larger school. “The only reason I was given a chance was because the teachers saw something in me. It’s such a small class ratio of teachers to students and they could see my potential and had time to pay attention to me. All the teachers know every student by name, their story, and their history.”

The teachers at Jessica’s school only teach one grade, and meet frequently to discuss student progress, and meet with the kids, something most teachers at bigger schools don’t have time to do because they teach so many different grades.

“My teachers were always supporting me. Without them I wouldn’t be here. I’d be somewhere,” Jessica says warily, “but not here. I was really close to my teachers.”

Jessica, one of eight children, has also become a role model for her younger siblings, whom she often takes care of at home. She enjoys writing poetry and wants to be a writer. She hopes to go to Brown University and would be the first in her family to go to college.

Jessica is still enjoying the fruits of her study and ambition. As soon as her principal warned her she was in danger of being kicked out of the school, “the light switched on,” she says. “When people have doubts in me that’s when I love shining more, it’s like my motivation.” And, thanks to a lot of dedicated attention from her teachers, that motivation has been nurtured and recognized. Looking back on it all, Jessica says happily, “I still can’t believe how far I’ve come!”