Hopes and Dreams: A Story of Belonging

Shannon Leatherwood, Principal, Spanaway Middle School, Bethel SD
Apr 01, 2024

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This article is one of three in our "Stories of Hope" series written by outstanding Washington state school leaders. We hope they inspire you! Check out our blog for the other two articles in this series.

When someone holds onto their hopes and dreams, they possess powerful encouragement that can help them overcome any obstacle in their way. Having a clear vision of what they want to achieve can provide a person with a sense of purpose to fuel determination and inspire perseverance. George Washington Carver once said, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” This highlights the importance of having a clear goal or dream, as it can provide a person with direction and motivation to push through tough obstacles. With hopes and dreams, individuals can transform their lives and reach the unreachable heights they may have once thought impossible. This is a story of a girl who had such dreams.

This little girl grew up in a small town southeast of Tacoma. Despite their young age, the little girl’s parents showed an unwavering dedication to providing for their family. They worked tirelessly to fashion a quaint, stable home for their young family, even if it meant sacrificing their own wants and needs. When she became school aged, her family moved into a small home in a nice neighborhood. The example set by her parents instilled within her a strong work ethic and a commitment to succeed in life. The little girl knew nothing came easy, and she began approaching life with a positive attitude, where she made the most of opportunities that came her way.   

As the young girl grew up, her parents were determined to provide her and her brother with every opportunity to succeed. They opened doors that were closed for others and constantly talked about hopes and dreams as they emphasized the importance of education. This commitment to success became the little girl’s reality, as she grew up believing that success was built upon hopes and dreams, with a deliberate effort to achieve them. Though they had busy schedules, the little girl’s parents made their children their priority. Her father spent time with them and taught them the important life lessons that would shape them as they grew up. Her father was not just a typical father, but a coach, a disciplinarian, and a compassionate man who was always involved in his children’s lives. No matter what, he was there for her through the good times and tough times. This helped the little girl overcome obstacles and excel.

Indeed, the little girl learned the importance of family from her father, who grew up with six siblings. Her grandfather had passed away at a young age, leaving her father to take on a significant role in the family at the age of 10. This hardship instilled in her father the importance of being a loving and supportive parent. Despite the challenges, her father’s love for her and her brother was strong, and he made sure they were always taken care of. Through her father’s example, the little girl understood the value of family and how it forms an essential part of a person’s identity. She realized that even in difficult times, the love and support of family can make all the difference.

Still, at first, education was not a priority for the little girl, and she struggled to find her place in school. She did enough to get by and stayed unnoticed by teachers and schools, until 7th grade. Seventh grade became a turning point in her life that helped propel her forward and opened doors she never thought were possible, and it came with the support of a champion in the shape of her father. Because despite her initial struggles in school, the little girl’s father had a commitment to her success that changed everything. He recognized her lack of engagement in school, and he refused to let her settle for mediocrity. She was failing most of her classes because of her lack of commitment to hard work and persistence, but with the help of her father, mother, and teachers, they created a plan to get her back on track. From that point on, the little girl’s mindset changed. She began to see how her hopes and dreams were tied to hard work and success. This experience taught the little girl the importance of having a team of people around her who believed in her, even when she didn’t believe in herself. With her newfound commitment to education, the little girl began to have a dream of going to college.

As the little girl grew up, she continued to hold onto her dreams of going to college and serving others. Her parents’ unwavering support and encouragement gave her the confidence she needed to pursue her ambitions. With her family’s support, the little girl began to thrive. She became involved in extracurricular activities and volunteer work in classrooms, which helped her gain valuable skills and gave her a sense of purpose and fulfillment. The little girl became passionate about giving back to others.

As the little girl progressed through school, her parents’ lessons on the importance of teamwork took on a new meaning. She began to excel in sports. By the time the little girl was a senior in high school, she already started to develop a love for soccer, but she never thought it could be her path to college. Her parents, although supportive of her, had no idea how to make college possible, as they were not familiar with the application process. This all changed when a coach recognized her talent and encouraged her to go to college. He worked tirelessly, reaching out to multiple college soccer coaches and arranging for them to come and watch her play. This was the first time the little girl truly believed it might be possible for her dream to become a reality.

The hard work of the little girl’s team paid off, and she was offered a college soccer scholarship. This was significant for the little girl and her family, as no one in their extended family had ever gone to college. This scholarship not only gave her the opportunity to pursue her dream of playing soccer, but it also paved the way for her to earn a college degree in education and pursue her dreams of serving others.

Despite her background and initial struggles in school, this little girl learned that success does not have to be determined by wealth or status. Instead, it can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and perseverance—as long as you have a caring team to support you from the sidelines.

I am this little girl.

Today I am fortunate to have a loving husband and two wonderful boys, and the values that were instilled in me growing up are the same ones that my family believes in today. My husband and I have been married for over 25 years, and both of our boys have followed their dreams while also valuing service to others and prioritizing family.

My parents' commitment to my success has played a huge role in shaping who I am today. They taught me to be resilient and persistent in the face of challenges, and that has helped me to overcome many obstacles throughout my life. As a principal of an amazing school, I am passionate about creating an environment where every student is valued and supported, just as I was.

At our school, we believe in the potential of every student and refuse to give up on anyone. We work hard to remove any barriers to success and hold high expectations for our students. Our staff fosters a culture of hope and possibility, encouraging students to dream big and believe in themselves, just as my father encouraged me.

As I continue to pursue my own dreams, I am also dedicated to empowering those around me to pursue theirs. I understand that building strong relationships is critical to achieving any goal, and I make it a priority to connect with others. As a principal, I recognize the importance of partnering with families to inspire and support their children in achieving their dreams. Drawing upon the lessons I learned from my parents' support, I work to foster strong relationships with families and encourage them to take an active role in their children’s education, providing them guidance and resources needed to succeed.  My hope is to inspire others with the hope and support that my family provided me, and to help them believe that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

Success is not just about achieving a particular goal; it's also about the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you've done all you can to become your best self. As I give back to my community through my work at the school, I hope to inspire others to think big and reach for what feels unreachable. Our school is a place where staff believe in all students and where everyone belongs. A place of hopes and dreams, where doors are wide open, barriers are removed, and student success is an expectation.

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