Kimmi Dawson thrives despite challenging background and plans to become a teacher

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Kimmi Dawson, a Barlow High School senior, won a $16,000 Beat the Odds scholarship. She counts science and math as her favorite subjects. Kimmi Dawson's upbringing was colored by instability.

Her dad could not keep a job and her mom struggled to support her, her older sister and younger brother. Both parents, especially her father, grappled with alcoholism, she says. Neither of them graduated from high school.

When she was in eighth grade, her parents divorced. The family eventually was evicted from their apartment. Dawson was homeless and bounced around, staying with friends, she says. Finally, toward the end of her sophomore year, she moved in with one of her softball coaches, where she still lives.

The Barlow senior doesn't waste her time on feeling sorry for herself or dwelling on her past.

"If you pity yourself, you'll never move ahead, she says.

Such stressed kids often struggle in school, but not Dawson. The Barlow High School senior is just shy of a 4.0 grade average, plays softball and has just won a prestigious scholarship.

Dawson has beaten the odds and that was most recently recognized with a $16,000 college scholarship, aptly called "Beat the Odds." The $4,000 per year grant from the Oregon affiliate of nonprofit Stand for Children is awarded to students "who overcome tremendous obstacles on their path to graduation day."

Barlow principal Bruce Schmidt calls her "an amazing young woman."

Instead of being angry or defeated by her rough childhood, Dawson calls it "bittersweet" and says "it helped shape who I am now."

The AVID edge

She credits caring teachers and coaches and a program called AVID for helping her succeed thus far.

AVID is a class in school that prepares kids who might struggle for college and careers. The AVID nonprofit organization trains teachers and provides the curriculum and materials to help these students.

Dawson admits that when she was in elementary school, "I missed a lot of school."

Then, at Gordon Russell Middle School humanities teacher Jamie Hemstead saw her potential and steered her into AVID.

"He saw a determination in me I didn't know I had. He told me 'you can do whatever you want to as long as you work hard.' He made it possible for me to get into AVID and I'm very thankful for him getting me into that."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Dawson, with Barlow science teacher Andrea Anderson, credits great teachers with helping and inspiring her despite her challenging background. Dawson also credits Andrea Anderson, a science teacher at Barlow, as one among the many teachers that motivated and encouraged her.

"She pushed me to apply for this scholarship," Dawson says.

Dawson counts math and science as her favorite classes and especially loved marine biology. She has taken several college-level Advanced Placement classes and is also getting college credit through Mt. Hood Community College.

Just one B

She carries a 3.975 grade point and still beats herself up just a little for getting a B in math her sophomore year when she was homeless.

Patty Neuenschwander, director of Barlow's college and career center admires Dawson's grit.

"I don't know how you have grades like that in all those STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes when you've lived through chaos like that. I'm in awe," Neuenschwander says.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Dawson hopes to attend the University of Portland and become a high school teacher. Neuenschwander describes Dawson as "even keeled" and says "she's set some pretty lofty goals and she's ticking them off."

Dawson will enter college as a second semester freshman. She has her eye on University of Portland but what college she attends depends on whether she can gather enough scholarships to afford the pricy private school.

After being encouraged by so many inspiring teachers, Dawson wants to join their ranks. She plans to teach high school "because that's where I needed the most help," she says.

She feels the transition from "being a kid to being an adult" can be especially rough on some students.

"My teachers have been amazing here, at all my schools. I want to be what my teachers have been for me. I want to help kids graduate and have a better life. Teachers play one of the most vital roles in kids' lives."

Stand for Children

Beat the Odds scholarships are awarded by the Oregon affiliate of Stand for Children, a national nonprofit education and child advocacy group. The scholarships are targeted to students who have overcome big challenges in life to succeed in school. They support students who often don't have the means to attend college.

Oregon Stand for Children recently partnered with the Portland-based Renaissance Foundation and was able to increase the number and size of the awards. In prior years, Stand gave four $10,000 scholarships to Oregon students. This year, 16 high schoolers received awards and the grants were increased to $4,000 per year of college for a total of $16,000 per student.

Students already in college on the scholarships also will get the higher amount, said Dan Lindner, Oregon Stand for Children's marketing and communications director.

"We're thrilled" to be able to help more students, Lindner said.

To apply for a Beat the Odds scholarship, students must have a 3.0 grade point average, financial need and feel empowered to tell their stories. They also have to have overcome difficulties in their lives.

"Beat the Odds scholars succeed in school despite challenges like poverty and homelessness thanks to personal perseverance, great teachers and dedicated school staff," the group says.

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