Lee High School senior Jordan Lovett headed to cross-country practice after her final class of the day.
Along the way, she stopped to listen to a middle school student play his instrument. She then took a moment to chat with friends before going out to the schoolyard to warm up with the team. There were miles to run.
Jordan is a busy 17-year-old. She is a talented runner and vocalist and works part time at Culver’s restaurant. She is taking on the role of Gingy the gingerbread man in the high-school musical “Shrek,” and she likes tinkering with tools in robotics class. She has a 3.5 grade-point average, and her slate of classes this semester includes pre-calculus and college English.
Next year, she hopes to attend Grand Valley State University or Ferris State University and start working toward becoming an elementary school teacher.
Despite her busy day, Jordan took a break from class to shed light on an an underlying, though often understated, crisis affecting schools and students nationwide: poverty. For her, the topic is personal — but the problem is systemic. She’s been without a place to call “home” for much of her high school career.
See the SNN Series on Poverty
The Burden of Poverty: A Backpack of Heartache
She also attends the poorest district in Kent County. Eighty-nine percent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools students receive free or reduced-price lunch. In the one-square-mile, mostly Hispanic community, 38 percent of school-age children live in households that earn incomes below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, district test scores rank near or at the bottom among the county’s 20 school districts. Schools locally and nationally generally follow the same pattern: the poorer the schools, the lower their academic performance. But some schools and students buck the trend.
Beginning today, School News Network will tell the stories of students in poverty, how it affects their learning, and how students like Jordan are able to overcome the odds with the help of creative teachers, supportive staff and innovative social-service programs.
The diminutive brunette with the sparkling blue eyes is willing to tell her story, and it goes way beyond track meets and classes.
Life Outside of School
Jordan has moved from place to place after her family faced multiple evictions. She has lived with ongoing uncertainty about where basic things, like clothes, will come from. When she says she’s grown up “everywhere,” she means it.
Jordan, who now lives with her mother, step-father, sister and brother near Kelloggsville High School, also has several step-siblings. She has moved many times during high school to locations in Wyoming and Kentwood, including a motel on 28th Street that she called “really creepy.” She spent most of 10th grade enrolled at East Kentwood High School and the beginning of 11th grade at Ottawa Hills High School. Jordan’s stepdad receives disability payments and her mother works at Dollar Tree.
“My mom has always made sure we had enough food and we always had a roof over or head,” Jordan said. “I never had to live in our car or outside or anything like that.”
In the middle of her junior year, she moved in with family in the Godfrey-Lee district and re-enrolled at Lee High. Her family has since been forced to move again, but Jordan has chosen to remain at Lee on for her senior year even though transportation is difficult. She said Lee administrators’ willingness to let her remain at the school has helped her the most.
“This is where I went to school the longest, and I’ve gotten to know everybody the most, so I wanted to stay here and finish it.”
Jordan said she didn’t always know what the next day would bring, or when the another move would start things all over again.
“It’s stressful because, with everything that goes on, you’re trying to focus on one thing,” she explained. “But the way I am, I have to focus on everything because I’m worried about school and my family and trying to make sure everything is going OK.”
She nearly gave up a few times, she said.
“When stuff gets hard everyone starts to argue, and coming to school, people don’t understand you, and you have drama. It’s like you have nowhere you can go where it’s OK,” Jordan said. “To help me get through it I just listen to music.”
So what’s kept her focused on school? Jordan answered quickly and with certainty: her mother, Sheri McClintock.
“She wanted me to do better than what she did, because shewas 17 when she first got pregnant. She couldn’t really do all the stuff she wanted to do in high school. It’s kind of like looking up to her like as a role model, trying to make sure I keep good grades so I can go to college. I want to be the first in my family to go.
Support from Mom, Strength from Running
McClintock said she has no doubt her daughter will achieve her dreams, noting she always has made good choices.
“Jordan is the kind of kid who, coming home from elementary school, would walk in with her arms full of trash she had picked up because she didn’t like people littering,” McClintock said. “Jordan has always done wonderfully.”
She wants better for Jordan and her other children than what she has had.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 15 or 16 years old. It’s been a rough struggle for me. I’ve done what I could to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. I succeeded barely, but I did it.
“I’ve always taught my kids there’s nothing they can’t do. Anything Jordan wants to do, she can do.”
The dual enrollment English course offered at Lee through a partnership with Grand Rapids Community College means Jordan already will have three credits under her belt when she graduates. She plans to soon begin applying for grants and scholarships, with help from high school staff members.
“It makes me proud of myself to know how far I’ve come with everything I’ve been through,” Jordan said.
A cross-country runner since sixth grade, she finds following a route of rolling hills and pastures clears her head. She has a personal best of 24 minutes for a 5K. She also runs track, specializing in the mile and two-mile races.
“It’s something stable for me,” said Jordan, who also sings in the high school honors choir.
Reaching Out for Help
One thing Jordan seems to have done quite naturally, which she said has helped her along the way, is inform people of her situation. She knows Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Dave Britten and her teachers well. Britten has helped pay for things she’s needed for cross country and provided transportation for her and two stepsiblings.
She has advice for students facing similar challenges.
“Talk to somebody in the school. It helps to have somebody who knows what you’re going through. And stay positive, because you are always going to have curves in life, even when you’re not in school. You’re always going to have struggles, but staying positive can help you get through it.”
Julie Warmels, a Lee High School adviser, will soon help Jordan navigate the college application process.
“She has been very outgoing as far as asking for help when she needs it.” Warmels said. “She very obviously has a good support network with friends, peers and staff that has helped her get through obstacles in life and maintain a high GPA and academic success.”
Britten said his hopes for Jordan reflect the desire he has for all of his students, “that she’s able to overcome the obstacles she faces day in and day out and stay focused on her future.”
“I’ve known Jordan since she was 11 years old and I know she has the strength, talent and intellect to be successful
in whatever path she chooses, as long as she is supported and encouraged by those closest to her as well as those she’s yet to meet,” Britten said.
“It takes a tremendous effort to overcome the circumstances of poverty but Jordan has already proven to me and others around her she has what it takes.”
Read the Series – The Burden of Poverty: A Backpack of Heartache