“Homeless to Harvard:” a must-read series

The Shelby Star published this excellent, and heart-wrenching, series in April on a high school student who found herself abandoned by her parents, but was able to still succeed at school and is headed to study at Harvard this fall.

If you haven’t read the Shelby Star’s original series, you should. (Click here to read all four parts of the series.)

Dawn Loggins, the amazing young woman profiled, has had her story picked up by national media this week and rightly so. But the original series in the Shelby paper is quite powerful, and worth reading.

From “Couch Hopping,” the second part of the series:

Dawn had to get back to Burns High before her senior year started. Burns was high school number three for her. It was also her safe haven.

Burns was a place where Dawn had a job cleaning the school’s classrooms, bathrooms, hallways and offices before and after school.

Dawn was allowed to stash her belongings in a closet near the cafeteria.

Dawn’s brother, Shane, had gone to Burns, too. Dawn’s advanced placement U.S. history teacher, Larry Gardner, had taught Shane.

She hadn’t been able to take as many challenging classes as her classmates.

“Every time I moved to another school, I felt further behind. I was disqualified from taking challenging classes because I missed too many days,” she said. “Now at Burns, I could take AP and honors classes.”

Gardner and other Burns staff had looked out for Shane and now, Dawn. Shane went to finish high school in Hickory.

They gave the siblings shampoo and soap and let them shower at the school. Junie Barrett, Dawn’s custodial supervisor, washed the siblings’ clothes in the washing machine custodians used to clean mops.

A few times in her junior year, while Dawn was living with her mom and stepdad in Lincoln County, the school staff drove her home and picked her up for school — 50 miles away.

Barrett and former Burns High Principal Gary Blake remember an afternoon when Dawn asked them for candles.

They asked why.

She said she couldn’t complete her homework in the dark. Her home had no running water or electricity.

Her question pained Blake not just as a principal, but as a father. Barrett remembers the strain in Dawn’s voice when she asked for the candles.

Blake met with staff and counselors the same afternoon. They paid the family’s power bill that month.


What struck me, beyond the incredible strength and determination of this young woman, was how willing and able the teachers and staff at her high school were to help her in her time of need.

Despite all the bashing and criticism we hear about the performance of public schools and teachers in our state, stories like Dawn Loggins’ give us a needed reminder of what good work happens in our state’s schools, the type of work that doesn’t necessarily show up in test grades.

It’s also a reminder that the public schools are where so many children turn to for help and inspiration, and where caring professionals — and programs like the Governor’s School — help children in unimaginably tough situations realize that there’s more out there in the world for them.

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