At age 12, Rebecca Schmitt had to grow up quickly. In the span of four years, her mother Sandra was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, lost her job as a Realtor and lost her home, leaving them homeless.Since then, Schmitt has had to care for her mom while managing her studies.
One of the first things she said she had to do was create a stress-free environment for her mom.“Because of that, I had to mature before my peers,” Schmitt said.But Maynard Jackson High School’s valedictorian hasn’t let that stop her.With a 4.2 grade-point average, the 16-year-old has been admitted to three of the 17 colleges she applied to:
Spelman, Georgia Tech and Washington University in St. Louis — not surprising for someone who skipped fourth grade.
The Atlanta Public Schools student recently earned $1,750 in scholarship money from The Dukes Foundation and The Robin Latimore Foundation.
“I don’t want to have a sense of entitlement,” Schmitt said. “So the fact that someone found it in their heart to give those to me is wonderful.”
And while everything is coming up roses these days for Schmitt, things haven’t always been easy for her and her mom.A Realtor in West Palm Beach, Fla., Rebecca’s mom struggled at the start of the Great Recession in 2008. Then in 2010, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable, but incurable ca-ncer that affects the plasma cells in bone marrow.The family flew to Massachusetts General Hospital for Sandra’s su-rgery.
“After her bone marrow transplant (in 2012), my mom was rendered disabled and unable to work,” Rebecca said.By October 2014, their home was foreclosed and the two were evicted.They moved to San Diego to get the best healthcare for Sandra, but when they could no longer afford it, they moved to Atlanta in August 2015. Rebecca’s mom goes to the Winship Ca-ncer Institute at Emory University for chemotherapy 21 days each month.
Since moving here, Rebecca and her mom have lived in a hotel.But she likely isn’t the only student staying in one.According to a 2016 report issued by the Department of Education, there were more than 1.3 million homeless children and youths enrolled in public schools across America during the 2013-14 school year.
In Georgia, there were 37,963 homeless students during that span, the seventh-highest total in the nation.
About 1,800 of APS’ 52,000 students are homeless.The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council defines homeless as anyone who lives in “a shelter, mission, single-room occupancy facility, abandoned building or car or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.”Rebecca said school officials didn’t know she was homeless until she had trouble getting to school. She was then contacted by the district and offered help, she said.
Rebecca said she’s thankful for the support the school district has shown her. In December, she was given a computer, a coat, a book bag and some books.“It’s one of the more positive moments of the year,” said Rebecca, who has been busy with college applications and other extracurricular activities.She serves as student government secretary, is a member of the National Honor Society, plays in the school orchestra and is captain of the tennis team (she was MVP last spring).
In her rare spare time, she plays the violin.But it’s her meticulousness that keeps her ahead in class. Rebecca’s Spanish teacher for the past two years, Marcy Hicks, said the teen turns in all of her work on time. “She’s always asking while we’re going over the work if she’s doing it correctly,” Hicks said. Hicks, like others, didn’t know about Rebecca’s home life when she first attended the school. “She’s very quiet,” she said. “I’m just now becoming more familiar with her story.”
Hicks said she’s impressed by Rebecca’s ease handling what for some could be a stressful situation.
“I think it’s incredible, especially since she’s come from the West Coast and came in the middle of the school year,” Hicks said. “To have been so humble and mature really speaks highly of her.” As for how she juggles a busy schedule, Rebecca said it’s all about time management.The honor student spends about four hours each day caring for her mom and the rest on school work.
But with the college acceptance letters comes the fear of separation between mother and daughter.“We discussed the possibility of my mom moving wherever I go to college,” Rebecca said.
“Home is where the heart is and we can always build a new home.”It would allow Rebecca to check in on her mom while she’s at school nearby. While Rebecca hasn’t decided where she will attend, she knows for certain she wants to be a teacher. “My teachers have inspired me so much in the past that I’d like to continue that cycle of inspiration.”
This Article Was First Published On “ajc.com”