ZILLAH, Wash. — Marissah Ross never really cared about high school. Freshman year, she skipped all the time. Sophomore year was more of the same. All she did was wait for the months to go by.
Her junior year, she transferred into Zillah’s alternative online high school program. She knew a few people in the program, including her best friend who had transferred in the year before, but she still didn’t expect things to change much.
It wasn’t until her senior year that she really turned it around.
She moved in with her boyfriend’s parents in Toppenish. They pushed her to go to school and wanted her to succeed. In her first semester of senior year, she even made the honor roll.
Now she’s on track to graduate, and has a spot at Heritage University this fall. All she has left is to take a Compass test to determine her college placement.
“I did it all in two years, and I never thought I’d ever be graduating,” the 19-year-old said in a recent interview. “I thought, ‘Why am I going to start trying now? It’s going to take me forever to catch up.’ ”
Though she did well in middle school, Ross’ interest in her studies dropped when her parents split up before she entered high school. She moved with her mom, younger brother and older sister to Zillah, but says her mom was always working, and her dad didn’t set the best example. She says she fell in with a bad crowd at the start of high school and soon discovered there was not much her mom could do to force Ross to go to class.
When she moved in with her boyfriend’s parents, however, “People cared that I did good in school and wanted me to try hard.”
That year she decided she really cared about school, and after a class trip to Heritage, she set her sights on a nursing degree.
“I really like science a lot, and I really understand it,” she said. “I wanted to choose a career that people are always going to be needed. We’re always going to need nurses; no matter where I go. I can find a job if I go to college and do all my stuff right.”
And because she doesn’t live with either of her parents, Ross qualified as homeless and was able to get some sizable grants. She received $24,000 for her first year alone, plus another grant for being the first generation in her family to attend college. Her parents never even finished high school.
Zillah High School Principal Mike Torres said he admires Ross for succeeding despite the struggles she faced outside of school.
“She overcame some of the barriers in her life and she’s meeting the graduation requirements. She chose a nontraditional path to do that, but that was her choice, and her choice is going to allow her to graduate on time,” he said.
Aside from school, Ross worked at McDonald’s this year and recently switched to a job at the coffee stand Whips, where she works two hours each weekday.
Her parents, teachers and boyfriend’s parents are proud, but not as much as Ross is herself.
“I feel happy, proud of myself,” she said. “I worked hard and I know that I deserve it and I know I’ll really like to be a nurse.”