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School Was My Safe Place as a Child

Jan 5, 2023

Lunch lady, turned paraeducator, pursues her dream to help kids overcome their ‘impossible’

After she had to leave school in the 9th grade to raise her younger sister, Jessica Andrews waited a lifetime to go back. Her time came when she was awarded an “I Have a Dream” scholarship by WGU Washington . She is now pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with a clear mission: to help kids achieve their “impossible,” too.

Andrews knows a lot about overcoming impossible odds. She had to leave school at a young age, she says, because her mother was addicted to drugs and couldn’t take care of her children.  7th grade was the last full school year Andrews completed.

“We were homeless for a while and moved around a lot. I went to some of 8th grade but didn’t finish it. Then we moved across the country to Washington, and I went for a few months of 9th grade,” she recalls. “Since we were all over the place, my records were such a mess.”

Then her sister was born, and Andrews had to leave the one place she felt safe. At 14 years old, she was tasked with raising her younger sibling. She always intended to go back to school, she says, but due to many circumstances, it got put on hold.

After taking care of her sister, Andrews had three children of her own with her husband—all boys, who are her biggest cheerleaders. She is often asked how she knew how to be a good mom when she never really had one. A lot of healing, she says, and because her kids are her world.

“I put everything on hold to raise them. When my youngest went to school, it was finally my turn. I started by earning my GED, which was one of the proudest moments of my life,” she says. “Then I applied for a job at Ridge View Elementary as a lunch lady because the job held a special place in my heart.”

As a child, school lunch was her lifeline. Sometimes it was the only meal she ate in a day. She says being a lunch lady felt like a necessary and healing step in her life. It gave her purpose and joy. But she found herself wanting more. She wanted to get back into the classroom.

Andrews began her studies as a paraeducator, which felt like destiny calling. She passed the ParaPro Assessment test, achieving another education milestone. She was hired as a kindergarten paraeducator soon after at Westgate Elementary in Kennewick.

“I loved my new job. I adored my students. Every time they overcame an obstacle, or learned a new word, I was smiling and laughing right along with them. The classroom remains my happy place.”

But once again, she wanted more.

“It felt like my destiny was still calling me, and although I was closer to it, I wasn’t quite there yet. So, the logical next step was furthering my education by going for my bachelor’s degree in elementary education.”

Andrews found WGU Teachers College – the largest teacher’s college in the state and nation—after several school colleagues recommended it. She says the combination of being online, affordable, and allowing her to go at her own pace made it a perfect fit.

“My life is too busy to make scheduled classes work. I find time to study in between all my other obligations. Going at my own pace has allowed me to accelerate as well,” she says. “I do better when I learn on my own, and my success so far has given me the confidence to pursue my masters next.”

Andrews was awarded WGU’s I Have a Dream Scholarship last spring, which gives students up to $4,000 towards tuition. It’s aimed towards people who have always dreamed of completing their college degrees and advancing their careers but faced challenges that prevented them from moving forward. In her application, Andrews stated, “I'm applying for a bachelor’s degree so that I can teach other children to never give up on their dreams.”

Andrews’ current dream is to be a reading specialist in an elementary school. She enjoys working in small groups and helping students build their confidence.

“Seeing their eyes light up when they achieve the ‘impossible’ is incredible,” she says. “Books were my escape as a child, and I feel like it’s my purpose to instill the love of reading in my students.”

Andrews’ ultimate goal is to simply, yet profoundly, make a difference by helping people achieve their dreams – including herself.

“First and foremost, I want to make sure no child is forgotten. School was my safe place as a child, and now I want to be there for my students like my teachers were for me. They will always leave my classroom knowing that it’s safe, and that I’m there for them.”

By Courtney Dunham, Communications Manager for WGU Northwest Region. For media or other inquiries, contact Courtney at 206.388.8926 or

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