“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
That phrase could have been coined with someone like Suzette Everhart, a third-grade teacher and intervention specialist at Summit Academy Community School in Dayton, in mind.
With her associate, bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, you might think Everhart followed a typical path to higher education: graduate from high school then enter college. Instead, Everhart’s younger years were defined by motherhood.
Pregnant at age 16, Everhart dropped out of high school during her senior year. The summer before that, she gave birth to her oldest child. Her journey to Summit Academy came later, much later.
Rewind to 1982.
Even though Everhart was just two classes away from graduating from high school, she says her presence there, as a teen mother, did not go over well. Everhart says she was viewed as “immoral” and faced discrimination. School officials urged her to arrive just before her classes started and to leave promptly afterward. Meanwhile, she wanted to be a typical senior and enjoy the fanfare that came with that final year. Instead, she quit school and found herself alone.
“My family threw me out. I was a minor with a baby. I was homeless. I was impoverished,” says Everhart, adding that she was repeatedly told, “You’re going to be a burden to society. You’re never going to amount to anything.
“For me, it was very detrimental,” she says.
Everhart moved in with who would later become her in-laws. Then she got to work. She served tables and worked as a bartender. Everhart and her baby’s father eventually wed. All along, Everhart held a desire to be self-sufficient and capable of supporting her children. Her convictions prompted her, at age 22, to pursue her GED and greener pastures.
Scoring an almost perfect score on her GED exam, Everhart entered college and after two years of study, became a respiratory therapist. From there, she went on to become a school instructional aide and later an instructional resource assistant. She also earned an associate degree while working at a series of schools. Everhart’s mentors, her principals, acknowledged her love for education and encouraged her to return to college to earn her teaching credentials. She did.
“I hit the books and I hit the books hard,” says Everhart, who graduated summa cum laude from Ashford University with a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and a minor in education.
After completing the accelerated program in 18 months, Everhart landed a position as a first-grade teacher at a Christian school. At the same time, she returned to college. She attended Mount Vernon Nazarene University where she earned graduate degrees in education and special education. As if the arduous steps were meant to be, they led Everhart to precisely the place – Summit Academy – where she gives students with special needs the chance to shine.
“I feel like it’s my job to advocate for kids,” says Everhart. “Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they can’t learn. They can. You just have to do it a different way.”
She talks about assumptions, about a hypothetical, stereotyped boy with a learning disability who picks up trays in the cafeteria at lunchtime, as if that role suited him best. “He has the potential for greatness,” she says. “People stigmatize others based on grades, ability, on who they are. I don’t have time for that.”
What Everhart does have time for is to show students the way to success. And if anyone knows how to navigate around obstacles and keep an eye on the prize, it’s Everhart.
“I’m a high school dropout,” she says. “I graduated in the top percentages of my college classes.”