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Rogers High School students learned the hard way and now they’re off to college

Rogers High School Principal Lori Wyborney takes a selfie of a gathering of students during Senior Signing Day Friday. The seniors walked across a stage, said their names and announced intentions for further education next year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Rogers High School Principal Lori Wyborney takes a selfie of a gathering of students during Senior Signing Day Friday. The seniors walked across a stage, said their names and announced intentions for further education next year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

It was a celebration of perseverance as well as excellence, a moment made all the sweeter by the pain that came before.

As Principal Lori Wyborney looked on like a “proud, crying mom,” dozens of seniors filled the gymnasium at Rogers High School on Friday.

The occasion was signing day for Rogers’ 100% College Application Completion project, which promised a future – in college, the military or the trades – to all who dared to chase that dream.

They came close. A school-record 94% of students completed the application process.

Often they did so despite roadblocks that loomed like mountains, some of them thrown in their path as small children.

Rogers seniors Sam Milsap, Aleah Davis and Alissa Scott have surmounted them all.

“All three of those kids had lots of choices, but they made some really good choices for themselves,” Wyborney said.

This fall, Scott will enroll at Eastern Washington University “with the dream of becoming a nurse” – a dream realized half a dozen years after she was removed from her parents’ custody.

Later, her guardian developed health problems, “so I’ve been bouncing around,” said Scott, who lived with friends and relatives with one thing in common: drug and alcohol addiction.

“They created their lives around that,” said Scott, who almost flunked out as a freshman.

“It was definitely hard, that struggle my freshman year,” Scott said. “I thought I was never going to have a stable place.”

She was wrong. Stability came mostly from the staff at Rogers, who provided Scott a safety net as well as a ladder out of the muck.

English teacher Drew Lochhead, who now teaches at Mead, “really believed in me,” said Scott, who finally was able to believe in herself.

She applied herself in the classroom, boosting her self-esteem as well as her grade-point average.

“When you don’t have support from family or friends, and you surround yourself with bad people, you become a product of environment,” Scott said. “It takes a lot to pull yourself out of that, and to see that you don’t want that in your life.”

But what did Scott want? That took some time, but she was pointed toward the goal of college by English teacher Michael Dewey and counselor Nancy Pemberton.

But as college dreams became plausible for Milsap, Davis and Scott, they were sometimes flustered by the details.

“For all of them, when they get an email, it wasn’t easy deciphering what the college is actually asking,” Pemberton said.

Often they’re asking for money, but plumbing the depths of a FAFSA application leaves most teens out of their depth.

“Then I would go over the paperwork with them, then print it out because they don’t always have a printer at home,” Pemberton said.

The idea of college is a reach for most kids at Rogers. So what was Milsap – whose mother told him it was OK if he didn’t go to college – thinking when he applied to the engineering programs at Gonzaga or the University of Washington?

“I don’t know,” said Milsap, who lives with his mother, grandmother and four brothers.

Worried that his 3.6 GPA and strong SAT score wouldn’t be enough, Milsap had some backup plans.

“When the acceptance letter came from UW, I didn’t react too much because I thought no way I was getting in,” Milsap said.

Next to him sat Davis, who happens to be his girlfriend. She wore a UW shirt to match Milsap’s, and plans to major in sociology with a minor in criminal justice.

“I’ve had a lot of social workers and counselors in my life,” Davis said. “They’ve helped me in so many ways and I want to make a difference in other kids’ lives.”

But first, Davis had to help herself. She works at Taco Bell, chasing every dime. At Rogers she chased her college dreams despite the handicap of prolonged periods of homelessness.

“I’ve been in a lot of places in the last few years. It was bad luck, nobody’s fault,” said Davis, who now with lives with Milsap and his mother.

She’s thankful for the support system at Rogers – especially Pemberton.

“I couldn’t begin to know how to apply for college and the FAFSAs,” Davis said. “Because of Nancy, I’m here and I’m going to UW.”

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