Originally published in The Daily Courier – February 2, 2019
Sometimes it takes climbing over an obstacle before one is able to see the path to go forward.
That is the case with 16 year old Hayden Harris, an elite Arizona softball player who through athletics found a confidence that has enabled her to be a competitor on and off the field.
Her challenges, academic and social, fueled a compassion she relies on to contribute to her teams and to the greater community.
“I think it’s made me a better person,” Hayden said of volunteering at Yavapai Regional Medical Center.
“We love her,” declared Nancy Thomes, YRMC’s director of Volunteer Services where Hayden has been a volunteer in the gift store for the last couple years.
No matter the need, Hayden is always ready and willing with a cando attitude that wins accolades from all those with whom she encounters, said Thomes and Volunteer Services Manager Chamine David.
“She just kind of jumps in whenever we need her,” David said, noting her schedule now is busy but she still makes time to substitute.
Thomes and David both said Hayden’s desire to harness her talents for the good of others is commendable. They both said they have no doubt she will prove a success at whatever she chooses to do in the future.
“She has discipline, and she has some pretty big future goals,” Thomes said of Hayden, who beyond pursuing athletics in college wants to earn a degree so she can one day have a career as a physical therapist. “I think she’s going places.”
Diagnosed in elementary school with dyslexia, the Prescott native always had had to work harder in school than some of her peers. The fact she reversed letters and numbers required reading and math interventions from an early age, said she and her mother, Jana.
Always an accomplished athlete, Hayden’s comfort behind home plate was not how she often felt behind a classroom desk.
The youngest of six children, Hayden’s academic struggles and athletic successes collided in middle school. Admitting she was not as focused in classes as she needed to be, Hayden was ultra focused on honing her athletic prowess, earning a spot as an eighth grader on an elite softball team in Phoenix.
Again, though, that turned out to be a double edged sword. Her self esteem was bolstered through the sport, but the travel to three hour practices during the week and twice monthly tournaments were taking their toll.
One of her coaches taught at an online high school, and encouraged them to consider that as an option.
After extensive research, Hayden opted to enroll at Insight Academy of Arizona, an online school that her mother said was a “good fit for her education” that enabled her to continue advancing in her sport.
Hayden has won numerous athletic accolades; her home is full of medals, game balls and banners. She was named a Most Valuable Player for one of her All Star games.
Unlike in a brick and mortar school where Hayden would be catching a bus at 6 a.m. after returning home from a practice at midnight, the online school offers more flexibility.
“It’s not that hard,” Hayden said of the practicalities of online school. “You just need to know how to work a computer and you’re good to go.”
Like with any school, Hayden has a course schedule. But if she needs to alter it, or even repeat a class, she has that option.
The fact she was given such a choice has enabled her to get more focused on her academics — Hayden is now earning a 3.0 grade point average and expects she will likely graduate early next year, her mother said. “It’s hard for kids with disabilities in public school because they just want to hide,” Jana said. “Whereas, with Insight, you can go at your own pace.”
Probably the biggest adjustment from traditional to online school was her connection with friends. But Hayden said that turned out to be an easy adjustment because she still attends their events, be they recreational or school related functions.
“I hang out with my friends all the time. It’s still like I’m in regular school, but I’m not,” she said with a laugh.
Asked who has inspired her most through all her twists and turns, Hayden doesn’t hesitate. Her mother, as well as the rest of their close knit family, urged her to move out of her comfort zone so she could find the way that best suited her personality, her talents and her future, she said.
“I’m proud of her,” her mother declared.
For more information on Insight Academy of Arizona, visit https://az.insightschools.net/