But the difference made can be one of two things: positively powerful or overwhelmingly detrimental. For Denver Online High School senior, Destinee Shabansky, she’s seen first-hand the influence of both.
Shabansky was attending a public brick-and-mortar high school in Vegas when she decided to drop out. “I’ve always been really bullied,” she said. The teenager was the target of a severe bullying case in which a student Shabansky did not know recruited twenty-seven students to text her devastatingly hurtful messages, suggesting that she should kill herself.
It took one person to cause a ripple of hurt.
Not long after, Shabansky was also the victim of a shattering assault. In this case, it took one person to cause a scar that fueled PTSD for the teenager.
Feeling unsupported through these horrible experiences, she said, “I just felt like my school doesn’t care. Why should I?” Ultimately dropping out, she expressed, “I was just done. I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
But the power of one thankfully did not end there.
It was two days after her assault that Shabansky found out that her great grandma was diagnosed with cancer. Growing up in her house and riding every day to school with her, the news of her great grandma’s health was crushing. “She had five different kinds of cancer,” Shabansky said, listing kidney cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer, and bone cancer, that ultimately spread to develop brain cancer.
But it was this one person who helped the struggling teenager reclaim her direction again. Shabansky said her great grandma had one wish before she passed: for her to graduate high school. “That’s why I got back into school,” she said.
While Shabansky battled against naysayers, her great grandma overpowered the claims. Shabansky explained how her great grandma would say things like, “I know you’re going to go back. I know you’re going to do great things.”
She even bought Shabansky a new laptop and allowed the seventee-year-old to sell her table for college book money. “She just made me feel like I could do it,” she said.
And that she did. Coming to Denver Online High School behind in credits, Shabansky worked relentlessly to get back on track. Not only did she make up credits, but she will be walking in the 2015 Denver Online High School graduation ceremony with a semester of college credits under her belt, also giving a graduation speech to her fellow peers.
Online education seemed to be the right fit for Shabansky to push through a tough time. While she said she enjoyed completing school online because it helped her to become more responsible and better at time management, she also noted the teachers. “That’s what made me want to do it [graduate] too. They actually cared.” Coming from her previous brick-and-mortar school where there were up to fifty-two students in a classroom at one time, she thrived much better in the smaller class sizes that the online school provided.
But not only did she complete her high school classes, she also got involved in volunteering in the Reading Partners program that she was introduced to during Denver Online’s orientation. Initially she didn’t sign up for the volunteer program, saying, “I didn’t know if I really wanted to be that involved in school.” But when she finally tried it and met with her elementary school reading buddy for the first time, she said, “I fell in love with it immediately.”
She works twice a week with a first grader named Christopher. They read a book up to five times during their lesson, working on fluency and learning new words and specific sounds. “It was something that helped me build confidence by helping other people. And that’s what led me to take college classes.”
Shabansky said her favorite part about Reading Partners was seeing the progress of her student throughout the year. “He wasn’t sure of himself,” she said about Christopher when they first started working together. But as the year concludes, she said, “Now he reads chapter books!”
As Shabansky concludes her senior year, she is more than ready to flourish past high school. She will continue to attend CCD this next year and then hopes to transfer to CU Boulder, likely studying criminology. “I’m the first to go to college in my family,” she said proudly. Not only will she be going to college, but the senior’s story also inspired her mom to go back to college, her older sister to go back and graduate from high school, and her mom to get involved in the Reading Partners program. She also said she will continue to personally volunteer with Reading Partners as well as start volunteering with the Blue Bench Project, answering the hotline for assault victims.
It takes one person to make a difference. Whether we choose to write cruel texts to a stranger or read kindly to a first grader, we all have the capacity to produce overwhelmingly detrimental or positively powerful stories. Choose the latter.
The one person who turned the plot line around for Shebansky ultimately ended up passing away on Christmas of this year. Because of this, Denver Online High School will applaud the overcomer as she stands up on that graduation stage, saying what her great grandma would have: “I know you’re going to do great things.”