In her sophomore year of high school, it was beginning to look like Courtney Pannell would never make it to graduation.
Paralyzed by a suffocating black cloud of depression and anxiety, she could barely make it to school. Fear settled in her stomach and she’d throw up, repeatedly, sometimes nine times a day.
“Graduating is so important to me,” she said. “It always has been so important to me, but it was so hard.”
Determined to graduate, she decided to enroll in the Post Falls School District’s alternative high school, New Vision. Now, she’s not just getting her high school diploma, she’s graduating a year early.
“We’re really impressed with Courtney,” said her mother, Kim Pannell. “As sick as she was, we thought she would have to get her GED. We thought, ‘What are we going to do?’ She bounced back.”
Doctors first diagnosed Courtney Pannell with depression and anxiety when she was in sixth grade after stomach problems landed her in the hospital for two days.
“I always thought there was something medically wrong with me,” she said.
She couldn’t hold down food and, at one point, shed 20 pounds from her already-thin frame.
“It was horrible,” said her mother, who has also struggled with anxiety and depression. “It runs in our family, unfortunately.”
Courtney Pannell said some at Post Falls High made her feel like she was to blame for her sickness. She said she was told, “It’s you. It’s all in your head.”
At New Vision, Pannell said she found understanding and support.
“I’m happy,” she said. “This school has made a big difference in my life.”
Kim Pannell describes her daughter – the youngest of five children – as an “old soul.” At New Vision, she said her daughter is treated like an adult, and that’s made a huge difference.
Teachers and students are on a first-name basis.
“They treat me like I’m not 12,” Courtney Pannell said. “They talk to me like I’m a human being.”
The school’s flexible schedule and online learning have allowed her to complete extra credits, enough so that she can skip her senior year.
“We’re so happy she’s graduating a year early, but we don’t want her to go,” said Ann Rosenbaum, a New Vision teacher and prevention specialist. “She’s an awesome kid all-around. She’s so sweet and kind and creative and talented.”
While at New Vision, Pannell has worked at the school’s coffee shop, gaining barista experience. She’s enjoyed it so much that she wants to work at a coffee shop after graduating.
“I want to work full time,” she said. “I want to know what it’s like to be an adult for a little bit.”
She’s contemplated attending Spokane Community College to study business.
“I want to own my own business and be my own boss,” she said.
Kim Pannell is happy by the progress her daughter has made.
“She’s an inspiration to me,” she said. “She’s determined. She’s always been that way. When she wants something, she goes for it.”
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