Like many of her Class of 2017 cohorts, Exploration Academy graduate Jaleah Price is heading to college in the fall.
Unlike them, she’s only had three years of high school And, also unlike many of them, the 16-year-old reached this milestone after facing homelessness twice in her life.
“It was challenging emotionally knowing I didn’t have anything to go to,” Price told the Press a few weeks before she graduated. “I wouldn’t have a hot meal prepared from my grandma or have my clothes.”
Instead, she embraced her school work at the charter high school she attended for three years.
“School for me is my outlet to really show what I’m capable of,” she said.
EA opened four years ago and features a project-based learning model driven by students designing their own learning. That was a perfect fit for Price, said her grandmother, Jovenus Price-Pierce.
“She’s very intelligent, very creative,” Price-Pierce said. “She’s a self-made girl.”
Price will attend Central State University in Ohio next year, where her uncle works as a basketball coach. She plans to major in psychology and either biology or chemistry.
“It used to be a family tradition to go there,” Price explained.
But that still leaves plenty of stress for Price as she works to ensure she can cover the expenses associated with college.
“My family has always battled with finances, we’ve even experienced homelessness and having our lights and such cut off,” Price wrote on a GoFundMe page raising money for her college expenses.
As of the Press’ deadline, the page – an idea of her grandmother’s – had raised $785. Any money she gets will add to the special moment for Price and her family when they watched her walk across the stage during the graduation ceremony last month.
“It’s the most wonderful occasion that we can have besides our children’s birth,” Price-Pierce said. “She’s special.”
When Price walked into the Verona Area High School K-wing where EA is housed, the building was familiar.
It’s where she was in daycare after her mother had her while a student at VAHS.
“I’ve been at Verona all my life, basically,” Price said.
At that young age, Price said her mother was “kind of irresponsible” with her children. Price ended up with her grandmother.
Years later, though, Price would again face a challenging situation, as she recalled talking to her grandmother at an eighth-grade parent-teacher conference.
“Before we went in, I was like, ‘Grandma, I’m so exhausted, I’m ready to collapse in bed,’” Price said. “She was like, ‘Jaleah, you can’t really do that because we don’t have a home.’
“I was really distraught, heartbroken.”
She and her family were homeless for the next few months, leaving some of the simple decisions in daily life unavailable to her.
“You can walk in your closet (normally) and like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to wear this today,’” she said. “In that situation (of homelessness), I gotta wear what’s clean.”
They eventually found a home for awhile, but Price was again homeless for “a good couple of months” during her first couple of years at EA.
“The second time, in high school, it was also really hard,” she said. “It was like, ‘Not again.’”
But this time, she “knew how to deal with it.” That included sharpening her focus on her school work, even as it required “extra time doing things like writing reports by hand.”
“(School) just gives me the opportunity to focus on what’s in my control,” Price said. “The other things that happen to me, I really have no control over.”
She took so much control that she was nearly ready to graduate halfway through her sophomore year, when her EA adviser surprised her with the news that she was close to the credits she needed.
“You know, 15 (years old and) going to college … I’ll pass on that,” she recalled thinking.
Leaving early was not her plan going into high school.
“I don’t really know how I got here (graduating early),” she said. “It was just a process of working hard, especially my freshman year.”
Planning to help
In college, she wants to “connect” psychology and either chemistry or biology to “understand the emotions and behavior behind discrimination.”
“I see the effect on myself,” she explained. “It’s important for us to really start investing in ourselves.”
The investment in herself has paid off so far. Her grandmother lauded Price’s “gift” for writing and her “giving, nurturing” attitude after all she’s been through.
“Each thing was something for her to be aware of, but move on and keep focused,” Price-Pierce said. “She’s going to make a mark before she leaves this world.”
Price said every challenge she’s faced played a part in who she is today.
“My struggles and my pains have made me unique and have helped me and pushed me to think clearly about myself, my experience,” Price said. “I don’t really dwell on the bad things, I look at them more as gifts.”