Emily Day has not had the typical high school experience. She has struggled with sickness, homelessness, and pregnancy. But Emily is a fighter and has not given up, despite the challenges thrown her way.
She started freshman year at a high school in western Washington but became homeless and withdrew from high school. Amid struggling to find a consistent place to live, Emily and her boyfriend learned they were going to have a baby.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what we would do, or where we would live,” says Emily. She called her mother, who lived in the Tri-Cities, and Emily and her boyfriend were able to move across the state to live with her.
At 17 years old, Emily gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Christmas Eve. She was several weeks early and ended up needing to spend time in the NICU. Emily said once her daughter was born, nothing else mattered.
When her daughter was 6 months old, Emily has holding her and came to realization she needs to do more.
“I know I’m a mother,” she says. “But (my daughter) needs more from me. She needs stability and the only way I can get that is with a diploma.” Soon after, Emily enrolled in Richland High School.
Mid-pandemic all schools were still remote, so it was easy for Emily to virtually go to class while taking care of her daughter. Trouble started when classes took up hybrid schedules, requiring students to return to in-person learning part-time.
“The daycare was always having to close down because a child would get sick, or someone would contract COVID,” says Emily. “I would have to leave school midday to go pick my daughter up. Teachers just assumed I was skipping class.”
During that time, she credits Richland science teacher, Mr. Fetrow, and his wife, Kim, for being big advocates for her. “They sat me down and helped me figure out the Child Tax Credit, among other things,” explains Emily. “I am so grateful for them.”
When senior year rolled around, Emily had to take her daughter out of daycare and wasn’t sure how she was going to continue school. Richland High counselor Wendi Hendricks suggested she look into Pacific Crest Online Academy (PCOA). Emily was skeptical at first, but decided to give it a try.
Almost immediately Emily knew she had found the right place to finish high school. “Every teacher at PCOA understood me,” she says. “They all were willing to help me make it work. I could have my daughter on my lap during Zoom calls, and they never made me feel weird about it.”
School was going well for Emily, but she, her daughter and boyfriend again became homeless. They would spend a week in one location, and the next week in another. School was hard being this displaced, but Emily has maintained a commitment to graduating. Recently, they were able to sign a lease on a new place to live.
“Things have always found a way to work out,” Emily says. “We could have been homeless, but we are not. We could have nothing to eat, but we do.”
Her boyfriend tells her to make every day 1% better than the day before. And Emily does just that, always pushing to make life better for her daughter.