Speaking Up for Success
In 2017, Jesca Gilbert ‘21 started her time at Valor like most other ninth-graders – a little bit uncertain about how she would fit in. She felt all the usual nerves about new friendships, classes, and activities. Unlike most of her peers, she was also adjusting to living in a new country and culture.
At the age of five, Jesca was adopted from her life as an orphan on the streets of Uganda. She and her mother (Ms. Shane Gilbert, Valor English teacher) spent the next seven years living in Uganda together until moving to Indonesia when Jesca started middle school.
In middle school Jesca was diagnosed with severe memory issues linked to early childhood trauma, making academic learning especially difficult. On top of that, she had significant knowledge gaps in subjects like math and science from her previous schooling. She spent hours of extra time working with tutors in an effort to retrain her brain and catch up to her peers. Instead of letting her learning disabilities hold her back, she resolved to work even harder.
A New Start
A desire to grow academically and in her Christian faith drew Jesca to Valor before her freshman year. At the time, school personnel wondered if they could accommodate Jesca’s learning needs and give her the support she needed to succeed. After much waiting and wondering, Jesca was admitted to Valor.
Immediately, she began adapting yet again to a new set of challenges. She recalls, “Freshman year was not easy for me at all, but I could see the accommodations area and all the teachers really working with me.” Slowly but surely, the learning gap started to shrink. She asked for the help she needed and found teachers devoted to helping her achieve her dreams.
Tutor Nina Hinds worked specifically with Jesca and saw how her hard work set her apart. Mrs. Hinds says, “As we worked together, we often identified the areas that needed to be strengthened and she was extremely diligent in working on those areas at home. Jesca focused on studying and learning to comprehend versus just trying to complete homework. I couldn’t be more proud of Jesca’s accomplishments. It was a blessing to me to work with (her) and witness her confidence grow.”
During her sophomore year, Jesca found herself enjoying friendships, challenging classes, and extracurricular activities like student government and sports. On a whim, she entered a poetry memorization contest called Poetry Out Loud and performed well enough to advance to the state competition. Against all odds, the girl with English as her second language and diagnosed memory issues won State and qualified for Nationals. Reflecting on her accomplishments, Jesca says, “The thing I love the most is that I’ve proven a lot of people wrong. Valor took a risk, and I think that risk was actually a really good thing.”
Now, Jesca plans to keep striving for success while making an impact on her peers. This fall, she takes on a new challenge as the first-ever Vice President of Diversity on the Student Leadership Board. She says, “I’m so happy about (it). I can connect with kids all across the school who don’t feel like they fit in, and say, ‘Look at me. You can do this.’”
That is exactly the kind of attitude that defines Jesca more than any accomplishment or award. Shane Gilbert, her mom, knows that the qualities that set her apart are ones that can’t be taught. She says, “Jesca makes an impact on everyone she meets, and I think that is the most powerful thing about her. She walks around with a joy that other people don’t have.”
After graduation, the possibilities are endless. Jesca is considering career options in education, nutrition, and international diplomacy. With her desire to make an impact and her track record of overcoming adversity, it doesn’t seem like any dream is too big. As an advocate for herself and a heart for others, she will join the ranks of Valor alumni prepared to transform the world for Christ.