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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Balancing school, work earns full ride for University High grad

Cassandra Staker, a senior at University High School, is preparing to graduate even though she has experienced homelessness in her high school years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Cassandra Staker, a senior at University High School, is preparing to graduate even though she has experienced homelessness in her high school years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Joe Everson For The Spokesman-Review

University High School senior Cassandra Staker’s high-school success story actually began in seventh grade.

She was in middle school when counselors talked with her and other young students about the Washington State College Bound Scholarship, a need-based financial-aid program designed to cover tuition expenses at eligible state colleges and universities.

Students must commit to achieving at a high level academically and staying out of trouble to qualify, and it all sounded pretty good to Staker at the time.

But she didn’t give it much thought until this year, when U-Hi college/career counselor Scott Kerwien called her from class a few months ago to ask her how she’d feel about going to college for free.

“At first, I thought he was crazy,” she said. “But then he explained that I was eligible for the Whitworth Bound Scholarship. Whitworth hadn’t really been on the list of schools I was considering, but that changed right away!”

The Whitworth Bound Scholarship ensures that 100 percent of tuition will be covered through university, state, federal and other resources for up to four years for students who are accepted to Whitworth with a GPA above 3.5 and who meet eligibility requirements for the College Bound Scholarship.

Staker’s academic resume includes a 3.81 GPA and six Advanced Placement courses during her junior and senior years. She also works 20 to 25 hours a week, competes in Knowledge Bowl and has been a member of Crimson Crew, a group that mentors younger students as they enter U-Hi.

“It’s hard, but by now I’m used to balancing everything and managing my time,” she said. “I take my homework with me to work and stay up late when I need to.”

Staker plans to double major in secondary education and business administration at Whitworth, with a specialty in international business. She hopes eventually to become a highschool math teacher, ideally at University, which has provided her a rich and welcoming experience.

“I’m living with my grandparents now, and they’re both retired teachers,” she said. “My aunt and uncle are also both teachers, so I’ve grown up around education. Things at home weren’t always easy for me, and I want to help kids in similar situations to stay on the right path. When things are hard at home, school can be an escape. You can make a different life there.”

Staker will be living at Whitworth next year, but plans to visit her family and help out as often as she can. She has an older brother enrolled in Community Colleges of Spokane and a younger sister in kindergarten.

Kerwien has worked closely with Staker this year, and said, “It’s pretty cool to think about what she’s done. Many other students give up in similar circumstances, but Cassandra has chosen success. The fact that she has not only persevered, but thrived, speaks to who she is.”

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