Jessica had to find her own way

  - Christopher Carter/staff photo
— image credit: Christopher Carter/staff photo

For Jessica Kennedy, the youngest of four sisters, there was the added pressure of success.

Then there was the shock that came with going to a bigger, new school.

Somewhere between changing environments both at school and at home, she learned the hard way that she wasn’t like all the other kids.

“I just kind of stopped going to school,” she said about her 9th grade year. She added that she became increasingly anxious being around hundreds of students and lost focus on homework and studying for tests.

Her parents, John and Vicki Kennedy, were confused about their daughter’s sudden resistance to school. They weren’t sure what to do. With moving across town and a death in the family, they thought she just needed time.

“They understood where I was coming from. They hoped that I would wake up and change my mind,” she said.

But she didn’t change her mind.

Her parents ended up giving in and Jessica Kennedy stayed home — a decision Vicki Kennedy later regretted.

“It was frustrating as a mom, you see your kids going off to high school. This has been a different road,” Vicki Kennedy said.

At the end of her 9th grade year and while the rest of her peers prepared to take the next step of their high school careers, Jessica Kennedy began to see problems arise from time spent away from the classroom. She had failed most of her classes and wasn’t on track to graduate.

“I kind of screwed up my whole high school career,” she said. “I gave up on myself and gave up on school.”

Jessica Kennedy said she began losing hope that she’d graduate at all, let alone on time. She tried completing courses through the Central Kitsap School District’s Off Campus program, similar to homeschooling, but she still couldn’t find her focus and she wasn’t able to catch up.

“It was looking pretty bleak there for awhile,” Vicki Kennedy said.

Then, she found New Frontiers, a 7th through 9th grade alternative school in the district with small classrooms and few students — just what she was looking for.

“There was a lot of people that were just concerned for me,” she said of the teachers and advisers at New Frontiers.

After completing enough credits to move on, Jessica Kennedy attended Eastside Alternative High School, her soon-to-be alma mater.

The perception that alternative schools were for the bad kids, the ones who made poor decisions, didn’t bother Jessica Kennedy. She said Eastside was the only place she felt comfortable learning and had the one-on-one support she needed.

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