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Chana student takes responsibility during family tragedies

Hammitt hoping to become special education teacher
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Jessica “Shiley” Hammitt believes when you are faced with adversity you have to be willing to step up to the game. Hammitt, 17, was scheduled to graduate from Chana High School Thursday night. Hammitt said Thursday morning she was looking forward to the next phase in her life: moving on to Sierra College and pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher. Before she began her schooling at Chana, Hammitt’s life was turned upside down in less than a year’s time. Her sister, Danielle, 29, passed away Nov. 15, 2008 from an aneurism. “It was hard, but I was kind of distracted because right after on Christmas Eve my mom found a lump the size of a golf ball (in her breast), and then when they took it out, it was the size of a tennis ball. It was a rapid cancer,” Hammitt said. Hammitt’s mother, Mary, was eventually hospitalized after undergoing chemotherapy. On July 9, 2009 Hammitt’s father, Dan, survived a massive heart attack. Both parents ended up in the hospital at the same time. “We got really lucky (that my dad survived),” Hammitt said. “And while all this was happening, I have a little brother, Cody. He’s 16 now. He was struggling in school, and I was as well. We went to different schools, but we tried to make sure we had a place to stay to go to school.” Hammitt said she and her brother had a lot of family members to stay with during that time. She also continued to work at her family’s Auburn store, Furniture Bargain. Her family’s struggles left Hammitt having a hard time in school as she constantly received phone calls updating her on her parents’ conditions. “It’s kind of hard to focus when you get those phone calls,” she said. “We didn’t know if they were going to make it one day, and then they were telling us something different the next day.” Hammitt said she was normally good at schoolwork, but the stresses were too much. Her move to Chana was a saving grace, she said. “When you don’t have a stable work environment, it’s too hard,” she said. “I fell so far behind in school. I kind of lost it a little bit. But Chana said, ‘OK, if you are a B student, you will be an A student here.’ It’s one level up.” During her time at Chana Hammitt tried to be as involved with the school as possible by doing things such as helping to raise and bring down the flag every day as well as forming a girls dance group. Hammitt’s mother has now been cancer free for two years. Her father is on oxygen and is hoping to retire from the store. The family lives together in Grass Valley. Now that she’s graduating Hammitt hopes to move closer to Sierra College and then one day probably transfer to Sacramento State University. “I want to become a teacher, kind of like a lot of the teachers at Chana who inspired me,” she said. “They do almost the impossible with a lot of the kids there. I want to do special education or a disability school. Everything is so fast now in the world. And a lot of these children need things to slow down for them.” Hammitt also enjoys singing and playing violin. Kathleen Sutphen, principal of Chana and Maidu high schools, said she thinks Hammitt will achieve her career goal and be a wonderful teacher because she is so dedicated. “She has had a large amount of tragedy in her life … but she’s just so very positive, and while she was here not only did she work very hard on her academics, she was so very involved in school activities,” Sutphen said. “And she earned such good grades. And she’s actually being honored with quite a few scholarships, because she went out there and applied for them and did what she had to do to be competitive.” Jacki Warych, an English, health and drama teacher at Chana, said she is happy to have had Hammitt as a student. “I think she will make an excellent teacher, and I think she’s resilient and I’m really proud of her,” Warych said. “I’m really proud of the way she has moved through the challenges that she’s had. I’m very impressed with the family and their support, even going through the tough things that they have, the support of her education and her younger brother’s education.” Hammitt said she has learned several things through her experiences, including how important parents are, because they could be gone at any time. Hammitt also said she learned about responsibility. “It’s just endurance,” Hammitt said. “I think when you get to the point where you are put in the position to be responsible, you just have to step up to the game.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- Chana High School graduation 73 Chana students were expected to graduate Thursday night. Kathleen Sutphen, principal at Chana and Maidu high schools, said she is extremely proud of Chana’s graduates. “It’s an amazing graduating class,” Sutphen said. “It’s our largest graduating class in size in the 10 years I have been an administrator at Chana High School. This class has worked particularly hard at completing their diploma requirements while working at jobs in the community, or volunteerism or engaging in activities here on campus.”