Student Highlight: McKayla Runels



We all have a story.

“I just started drinking and smoking and screaming at my parents all the time, running away, sneaking out.  I was just really mean to people,” said Denver Online High School junior McKayla Runels.

And sometimes those stories have rough beginnings.

“My grades in school were all, like, ‘D’ was the highest grade that I had, and I was just in a really bad place,” she said.

So much so that she transferred out of a traditional brick-and-mortar school to a sixteen-month out of state program to address her internal struggles, ultimately finding her new school home at Denver Online High School upon her arrival back to Colorado.

“I always get really emotional when I talk about this because I always just think about how dark my life was.  Like there was no hope for me, and I really thought that,” she struggled to say.

It was a series of intentional changes that ultimately helped shape her story of redemption, with the first being a simple haircut.

“I really cared a lot about my hair and I was really attached to my self-worth.  If my hair didn’t look good, I didn’t feel good about myself.  And if someone else’s hair didn’t look as good as mine, then I felt better than them,” Runels noted.

A change in perspective ultimately transformed her life.

“If I knew someone who had cancer, I would never cut my hair for them.  Because why would I give up my hair?  It doesn’t help them get better—why would I give my hair up for them?  And I realized that was really selfish because it can make a really big impact on someone if you’re willing to do that for them,” she explained.

So she chopped it off, giving her hair to Locks of Love to someone with cancer or alopecia that couldn’t grow their hair.  She said, “But I feel like you don’t really need that because you’re beautiful the way you are, and some people with those diseases struggle with that.”  Because as McKayla learned, your worth is not just skin deep, something that we hope to instill in every Denver Online student, especially through our school service projects serving at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“Sometimes you have to find new people in your life who are willing to hold you up and care for you the way that others won’t, and the way that sometimes, you need others’ strength to help you get through,” she said.

Because whether it’s one wig or one smile, one person can make a difference.

“I feel like Denver Online is a great place for that because all of the teachers, I feel like all of the teachers care about the students,” she expressed.

The once “D” student is now thriving, getting hand-picked by the principal to speak on a student panel in front of a room full of educators at the 2017 Conference on Blended and Online Learning,  Runels reflected, saying, “It was nice to have teachers listening to what I liked about school.”

She was also recently inducted into the National Honor Society and is now taking tuition-free college courses through Denver Online’s concurrent enrollment program.

When we look in the mirror, it’s not the hair but the heart that ultimately reflects in the story of our lives.  Sometimes it takes just a small act of goodness, maybe even a buzz cut, a kind word from a teacher, or time spent with those who could use a smile, to completely transform how that story unfolds.

She said, “Serving is really important because you never know how like much of an impact it’s going to make on someone  when you do that.”

And sometimes, that person is you