JuleAnna Jenson hates missing school. Sick days are a drag for her, and the only reason she’ll stay home. On days she doesn’t have to work after school to help pay family bills, she can be found in the Davis High School library until 6 p.m., she said.

“A lot of people say they have ‘senioritis,’ but I don’t. I feel like I can keep going,” she said of a common loss of motivation in anticipation of walking in graduation Monday evening, June 10.

After graduating, Jenson will go to continue her education, going to Eastern Washington University to study nursing.

But she said never expected to get this far.

“Honestly, I really feel like I couldn’t have done this, and I’m really shocked that I’m graduating,” the 18-year-old, 3.4 GPA student said.

In grade school, Jenson was living in Ellensburg with her mom and brothers. The local middle school was right by their house.

But in fourth grade, Jenson said her mom began preventing her from going to school for long stretches of time. When she did attend, she said she would be told she had missed too many days and fallen behind the class, and was often sent home.

For more than two years, she would pore over books at home — from romance novels to biographies about the boy band One Direction — trying to learn. Her brothers kept going to school, and she would listen to their stories about class or recess and wish she had her own to tell.

In spring of sixth grade, Jenson took it upon herself to ask school administrators to help her get back into class.

“I had to go and tell them, ‘Hey, this is happening. I really want to go to school. I know education is important and I really need to get out,’” she said.

Soon, Jenson was living with her dad in Yakima, attending the final months of sixth grade as her fellow classmates itched for school to be released for summer. While she was behind, she said, she was not held back in any of her classes. Instead, she worked hard to catch up.

While other students checked out, Jenson said she was thrilled to be in school and have a challenge, so she applied herself.

“It was all new to me, so I was like, ‘I want to learn this. I want to learn this,’” she said.

For years she struggled in math, convincing herself she was bad at it. But in her sophomore year of high school, with encouragement from teachers, she decided to change her perspective, telling herself she was strong in math. She finished her geometry class that year with a B-plus, up from the C’s she had been getting before. She’s since grown to love mathematics concepts like logarithms, and got an A in her International Baccalaureate pre-calculus course.

Her high grades are due to perseverance, the theme of her high school career, which has also landed her four college scholarships.

“You’re not going to get everything in life. You just have to work at it and work at it and try again. I feel like if you don’t at least try again once, then you’re giving up,” she said.

“Perseverance is a big word in my life, because struggling defined me as a kid but perseverance defines me now. I don’t like giving up,” she said.

Her dad and supportive teachers along the way have helped instill this perspective in her, she said. She hopes to do the same for other struggling youth. After studying nursing, Jenson thinks she’d like to work as a public school nurse, helping at-risk students.

“I want to give back,” she said. “I want to give to people who are in the same position as … I was before.”

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka

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