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The epiphany that got this senior to graduation day

Grad with Grit: Kaiden Powell

Forest Hills — Northern High School senior Kaiden Powell had an epiphany in his junior year: Grades are important if you want to graduate. So he made an immediate change. 

“I started working harder on all my quizzes and tests, and started studying more, so that way I could get those credits,” Kaiden said. “So this year, my senior year, I could have fun and do the classes I wanted to do.”

A student in Forest Hills Public Schools since kindergarten, Kaiden said his struggles began during the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted his freshman year in high school. He struggled with online classes for the first semester and a hybrid of online and in-person for the second semester. This situation meant that Kaiden could not take some of the classes he wanted, such as wood shop.

Around the same time, Kaiden’s mother, Sally, was diagnosed with kidney failure; she died in April 2021. Kaiden said she had been his best friend and his biggest advocate, helping to assure he got the help he needed in school.

Kaiden Powell always tries to have a positive attitude for others because ‘you never know what they have gone through’ (courtesy)

“It was still rough for me because she was like my best friend,” Kaiden said. “I didn’t realize how important high school was because when my mom was ill it kind of took all that thought away.”

Working through the grieving process while adjusting to high school, hybrid classes and moving in with his grandparents, Kaiden continued to fall further and further behind.

“Basically, I failed all my classes because of that, and then in the summer I had to retake all the classes,” Kaiden said, noting that he attended the Kent ISD’s online school MySchool@Kent and eventually did pass his freshmen classes. 

“Then my sophomore year, because of the (summer) online classes, I don’t know what got my head, but I was like, ‘Oh, well, it’s okay if I do bad because I can just do summer school,’ and that was not a good mentality to have.”

Therefore, during his sophomore year, Kaiden said he blew off his homework for TV and video games while managing to scrape by in school with barely passing grades.

Do the Work to Get the Grades

It was in November of his junior year that Kaiden said he began to realize that “just passing” was not good enough; he needed to apply himself and do much better.

“The junior classes were going to be harder than the sophomore classes,” he said. “I knew if I did badly like (the) last year and I didn’t try hard, then I was not going to get these credits and I was not going to be able to walk on the stage (at graduation). So that’s definitely what made it click in my head that I need to study.”

Kaiden put away the TV remotes and gaming controls and began dedicating one to two hours a night for studying. He would spend time quizzing himself before an exam and reviewing areas he felt weak on.

“Exams are about 15% of your grade,” Kaiden said. “So if I had a 75% in the class, I knew for sure I’d be safe. So I would always try for 75% or above in those classes, just in case, because I couldn’t memorize everything for the exam … But I still tried my best.”

He did it all — and saw his grades improve — while he juggled attending Kent Career Tech Center for its culinary program and a job at Forest Hills Foods. 

Kaiden also had his own cheering section of school staff members. Many who know him said that despite all that he has faced, Kaiden has always had a smile to share and is supportive of others. 

“Through all that Kaiden has gone through, he has had the most mature and positive attitude I have seen in a young person,” said Forest Hills Northern Middle School counselor Teresa Miller. “He just kept moving forward and doing well no matter what his day was like.”

“I don’t want him to leave,” said English and yearbook instructor Nicole Damuth, who met Kaiden through his English class and discovered his love for writing. “You truly feel like you have been given a gift whenever he is around.”

The Sweet Reward: Senior Year

For his senior year, Kaiden only needed to take two required classes, environmental science and English, and filled his schedule with classes he wanted, such as wood shop and yearbook. With a score of 80% or higher in all of his classes, his hard work assured him a spot on Northern’s graduation stage this past May.

Senior Kaiden Powell said he realized in his junior year that grades are important if you want to graduate

His goal is to enter the film industry; he is looking at online classes through the entertainment media school Full Sail University, which is based in Miami. 

And if there is a lesson in all that Kaiden has learned, he said it is “to do the best you can, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to make it. But if you try, you will see improvement in your grades and it will really make you happier and proud of yourself and it will show you that you can do better for yourself and others.”

Read more from Forest Hills: 
Project-based program serves lesson in sustainability
Taking the ‘American Dream’ to court

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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