Braelea Wagner has been home-schooled since kindergarten and attends the Deer Park Home Link, a partnership between home schooling families and the school district. Although her parents were her teachers in elementary and junior high, most of her high school work has been in-person through Home Link.
Wagner loved her classes in literature, botany, geology and many other topics.
As a lifelong home-schooler, Wagner appreciated the flexible time scheduling and the ability to take family field trips to dive deeper into topics like history and science. She has made trips to Fort Spokane and the Oregon Coast prompted by school topics.
“When you get the chance to see something you’re learning about, it connects so much better in your brain,” she said.
Outside of school, Wagner likes volunteering at her church, Calvary Chapel Spokane, where she would run the camera or the digital projector during services.
She has learned to play piano from her grandmother, a piano teacher, and performed at retirement homes during the holidays.
“Seeing the people light up and tap their toes to the music always filled me with happiness,” she said. “When this pandemic clears up, I would love to play for them again.”
Wagner also took up Irish dance and performed with the Kelly Irish Dancers.
In early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Home Link classes were shut down.
“It was so strange not being in class with the teachers. They’re my best friends.”
She struggled to adjust to remote learning at first using just email and Google Classrooms.
And there was a bigger challenge in store.
In July, her father, Paul Wagner, a truck driver, was diagnosed with oral cancer, stage four. Because the treatment for the cancer would suppress Paul Wagner’s immune system, Braelea, her mother, Marnie Wagner, and brother Cody Wagner, 14, committed to a strict quarantine, curtailing most outside activities for the family.
Even with the lockdown and caring for her father, she loved getting out in nature whenever she could. Some of her favorite hikes are along the Oregon Coast. “One of my favorite places to hike around there is near Fort Stevens, and the Fort to Sea Trail. I love to listen to the song nature makes,” she said. I’m just exploring everything God created.”
She likes to ski and kayak as well. “I just like getting out and connecting to nature, for like Wordsworth believed, nature is both a teacher and a healer,” she said recently. “Nature inspires me to write poetry, for everything has a story worth telling.”
Although some Home Link classes restarted during her senior year, Wagner has stayed home because her father was still at risk.
Despite their quarantine efforts, Marnie Wagner, then Braelea, contracted COVID-19 in December .
Braelea Wagner’s first symptoms included blurry vision and severe headaches. She and her mother immediately locked themselves in their bedrooms to protect her father, who had to bring their meals to them during the two-week isolation period. Both recovered but have had “long-haul” symptoms of recurring headaches and brain fog, which made concentrating difficult. Wagner had to postpone one exam in January because of an intense headache.
During this tumultuous senior year, Wagner went on a ride-along with firefighters from Spokane County District 4. The experience led her to make a career goal of becoming a firefighter. She met Capt. Megan Hill and learned women can do the physical aspects of the job. She has been working out with weights in preparation to take the physical agility test, a first step toward being a volunteer firefighter.
Her father is still on a feeding tube, but his cancer is in remission.
“He has kept a strong faith in God, and he trusts that he will get through this,” Wagner said.
“My trust in God helped me through all of this. The battle belongs to Him, and He will never fail,” she said.
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