At an early age, North Port High School senior Jackie Thame learned the value of being present and reliable.
Jackie, her twin Joel (also a STRIVE honoree), and their older brother moved from New Jersey to Florida when they were toddlers.
From the beginning, their grandparents played a huge role in raising the children, eventually taking legal guardianship.
More:Lessons about grit and grace from Sarasota’s STRIVE students
Jackie was always extremely close to her supportive and loving grandparents, and she felt their pride when she excelled in school and at track and field events where she threw the discus, placing first in the district last year.
In her junior year, with school schedules and activities fluid due to the pandemic, Jackie chose remote classes so she could help her grandmother and spend as much time as possible with her beloved grandfather, whose cancer was rapidly worsening.
“Helping out meant the world to me because I’m the type of person who wants to jump in and make a difficult situation better. And it gave me a chance to have fun times with my grandparents while we still could. ”
Her grandfather’s death in the spring of 2021 was nearly impossible for her to comprehend. He had been her father figure.
“It just didn’t seem real that my grandfather was gone,” Jackie says. “We were with him in his last moments, and I don’t know how or if I could have dealt with his loss if it weren’t for my family and all of us helping each other.”
Shortly after her grandfather’s death, Jackie returned to in-person classes in the rigorous Cambridge AICE program.
Weighed down with grief, sadness, and anxiety, Jackie initially tried to keep her emotional state to herself. She resumed her volunteer job as a helper to NPHS teachers, running errands and helping tidy up classrooms. She was recognized as a scholar athlete and was in the marching band.
But keeping her feelings bottled up did not work. Mrs. Reich, her language teacher in the Cambridge AICE program, picked up on Jackie’s distress and invited Jackie to have lunch in her classroom.
Teacher and student fell into a habit of talking over their day. Mrs. Reich kept tabs on how Jackie was coping and managing her course load. They grew close, and Jackie still has lunch with her former teacher, who has become her mentor.
“It really helped to have someone I trusted who gave me time and a place to talk about my sadness and helped me stay on track with my goals,” Jackie says.
“People want to help when they see you’re having a hard time, and you just have to give them the chance. I try to do the same for my friends. ”
Despite the traumatic events of her junior and senior years, Jackie is graduating with a 4.6 GPA. She has been accepted at several universities and plans to go into a medical field, most likely research and development of new medicines.
“When my grandfather died, I felt stuck. But as time passed, I was able to focus on the great life he lived rather than how he died. He inspired me to realize that I want to help people and make a difference in their lives for the better. ”
Jackie’s advice to entering freshmen: Don’t get distracted by high school drama. Instead, make your plan, do your work, and focus on the bigger picture.
This series showcases Sarasota County public high school seniors selected as STRIVE award honors for demonstrating grit and resilience to overcome obstacles and substantially improve their lives. These stories are presented to celebrate STRIVE students and to inspire and remind us all that it is worthwhile to continue striving to succeed when life delivers harsh and unexpected experiences.
The STRIVE Awards recognition is presented by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and made possible by the H. Jack Hunkele Charitable Foundation and other generous donors. More information is available at EdFoundationSRQ.org/STRIVE2022.