NKYEC’s ‘Against All Odds’ awards go to amazing high school students who overcome barriers

NKEC Dinner against all odds_NKyTrib_4.10.15

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune Editor

When the Northern Kentucky Education Council celebrates successes in education across the region at its annual event, there is certainly much to celebrate.

For me, the most meaningful part of the celebration was the terrific recognition of students who succeed “Against All Odds.”

The recognition of these students is a credit to NKYEC — which does great work in advocating for quality education and trying to even those odds for all our children.

The awards themselves, however are a sobering reminder that young people today can face near impossible odds, not of their own making, that get in the way of school success.

The stories of these determined, resilient and remarkable young will impress, touch your heart, make you think in ways you may not have, and will give you a new appreciation for the great kids who do rise above.

Here are the “Against All Odds” winners who were recognized by the NKYEC and what was said about them:

Jordan Kiskaden

Jordan Kiskaden

When you first meet Jordan, you might never guess the struggles he has overcome to get to the places he is today, achieving graduation from high school as well as planning for his future. He is mature in some ways for his age because of circumstances he has faced. Yet, he is still a young boy who does not have a stable environment and worries about getting his basic needs met. Jordan credits his success in high school to the difficult past he has faced.

Jordan and his twin brother — even from kindergarten — were always so cute with a mischievous air about them. As Jordan moved on to middle school and high school, he was always polite and respectful.

To say Jordan was “against all odds” is an understatement. He was raised in an unstable home where education was not always valued; they lived day by day and didn’t plan for the future. His family went without water and electricity on many occasions. At one point he and his brother were asked by their parents to consider dropping out of school and getting jobs to help pay bills. Jordan chose to stay in school, knowing he needed the education in order to provide better for himself in the future.

Jordan has missed very little school during high school, only 3.5 days absent and several tardies. He carries a 3.7 GPA.

All while being kicked out of his parents’ home and wondering where he would live. Jordan was lucky that he had a friend in high school who provided a home for him for quite a while. He is currently living with his older brother and working part time for a temp agency. His brother lives out of district so travel for him to school is a little more complicated, but he has his eye on the prize.

Jacob Shields

Jacob Shields

Each of our 1700 plus students at Simon Kenton High School has his or her own individual circumstances and story. Often times, students allow themselves to be defined by their family background, perceived peer group, or membership in clubs or on teams. Sometimes, this is a positive motivating force, and sometimes students fall victim to lowered expectations.

Obviously educators want all students to achieve at their highest possible level and want to instill in them the drive to better themselves. Jacob has personified these ideals, rising above circumstances that would cause many to falter.

Just look at the barriers in Jacob’s path to see how much he has overcome. Jacob has bounced between schools several times throughout his high school career. Many times this fact alone causes students to become lost along the way, even if all other aspects of their lives are functioning properly. Jacob withstood that obstacle.

Multiple family members have struggled with addiction. Jacob withstood that obstacle.

Jacob has been homeless at various points throughout high school, at times living with friends of the family, in motels, or his family’s car. Jacob withstood that obstacle.

Jacob’s birth family has even lost possession of a storage unit where all of his tangible childhood memories were stored. Jacob withstood that obstacle.

Jacob has even overcome difficulties with reading to earn A’s in English classes and now plans to attend college.

For someone who had every reason to quit, Jacob decided that he would not be defined by his background, and he has thrived.

Jacob had his Guardian Angels along the way. One of his teachers, and a Golden Apple nominee, Kelly Cassidy, and her husband, Mike, have taken Jacob in to live with them. Jacob went from having so many obstacles stacked in front of him to moving into a loving home where he has two brothers who admire and love him.

Just as Jacob has refused to be defined by his background, Kelly and Mike refused to allow Jacob to fall between the cracks. I know that none of the members of the Cassidy family would have it any other way now, but their decision to open their home and their hearts to support Jacob has been more important than anyone could possibly know.

Hayleigh Harden

Hayleigh Harden

We have all heard stories of famous people overcoming adversity: Great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, who as a child endured the death of several close family members, failed in his first business partnership, and lost several elections, but eventually served as President, leading our country during a most difficult period. Athletes like Major League pitcher Jim Abbott, who, despite being born without a right hand, played baseball for 10 seasons and even pitched a no-hitter. Scientists like Albert Einstein, who at 16 reportedly failed the entrance exam to study electrical engineering but went on to earn his Ph.D, eventually pioneering modern physics.

While she may not yet be famous, Hayleigh Harden’s perseverance is certainly an inspiration to everyone around her. The Dixie Heights senior has traveled a path unlike any of her fellow Colonel classmates.

Though her family life has consisted of uncertainty and chaos since the beginning of her freshman year, Hayleigh has maintained her commitment to doing well in school while at the same time helping family members endure life amidst the chaos.

She often took care of her younger siblings — cooking meals, helping them with homework, and tucking them into bed.

To find a quiet place to complete her own studying, she came to school an hour and a half early. Determined to attend college, Hayleigh prepared herself by taking rigorous AP classes, and she will have completed six upon graduation.

She has participated in some extracurricular activities and worked 20-30 hours a week, while earning a 3.8 GPA and a rank in the top quarter of her class. She has scored an impressive 29 on the ACT.

Hayleigh plans to attend the University of Cincinnati next year to begin pursuing her dream of becoming an anesthesiologist and contributing to the Northern Kentucky community. She explains how defining her purpose in her family’s situation and setting personal goals enabled her to get past days when she considered just giving up.

Read more about NKYEC’s work at www.nkyec.org

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