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Rogers High School senior propelled by perseverance

Rogers High School's Jatayah Phelps poses for a photo on Friday, April 21, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Rogers High School's Jatayah Phelps poses for a photo on Friday, April 21, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Katie Kales For The Spokesman-Review

The epitome of resilience, Jatayah Phelps has traveled far and wide to get where she is today. Living a life impoverished, Phelps had no consistency in her life until she stepped foot in Rogers High School. In her short lifetime, she has experienced homelessness three times.

Before Rogers, Phelps attended seven schools in eight years, in three different states.

Phelps’ high school experience began in 2013, at which point she said “enough.”

“I told my mom that I can’t move anymore,” Phelps said. “(I told her) when I go to high school, I’m not moving – no ifs, ands or buts.”

During her four years she has not left Rogers once, but she has moved homes seven times.

“Looking at her you would never know that there are problems at home,” said Karrie Docterman, Phelps’ ASB adviser. “She’s a great example of someone who comes from nothing and has hardship, but is able to pull themselves out of it and not allow for that to hinder them or set them back.”

Phelps lives with her mother and younger brother, typically living on child support and other aid from the state.

“She’s really had to make do with what she has, what has been provided, and she’s done really well with that,” said Jason Anderson, Rogers’ academic support specialist.

“But on top of that, she’s been able to stay productive and stay away from the some of the distractions of those around her, and there are many. There are a lot of influences that try to pull you a lot of different ways and she has been able to stay grounded and stay focused and realize how important [her] education is.”

Amid her struggles, Phelps has maintained a 3.6 weighted GPA while taking Advanced Placement classes, working part time at Chuck E. Cheese’s for almost two years, and being involved in Rogers’ ASB and leadership.

“I know that she is a hard worker, I know that she challenges herself, and knowing what she has to go home to at night it’s hard to believe that she does so well,” Docterman said.

Docterman and Anderson both noted Phelps’ humility and self-sacrificing tendencies, which is evident in her practice of providing for her brother. Extra money from her paychecks typically goes to spoiling her brother by buying him new shoes or clothes, she said.

“I want to help him, so … I say no a lot of the time, but the things I can afford I try to splurge on him a little bit,” Phelps said.

This trend of selflessness also bleeds into other aspects of her life, especially in her role on Rogers’ leadership team.

“She’s one of the most caring people that I know,” Docterman said. “For someone who doesn’t have a lot, she’s the first person to say ‘Let’s do this for the community.’ ”

Anderson often pairs her, because she’s a leader at school, with the “tough kids” because of her strong personality and ability to adapt to new situations with ease.

“She’s kind of like a mini teacher or mini parent in a large group of knucklehead teens,” he said.

Mature beyond her age, Phelps has had big dreams since she was 10 years old.

“Graduate high school on time, graduate college with a degree I’m passionate about, and to be able to provide for myself and my family in the future,” Phelps said.

“A lot of kids are going to be affected by outside influences, the partying and some of the things that occur on and off college campuses, but she’s [not],” Anderson said. “I know today right now, as a high school senior, she’s going to graduate [college] on time.”

As of now, Phelps is living out her dreams.

In the fall, she will attend Central Washington University, tentatively exploring a degree in fashion design.

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