Kaitlyn Jadevaia is familiar with loss. She lost her father in 2015 when she was a child. She lost some of her hearing years after her eardrum was punctured during a routine surgical procedure, and she now wears a hearing aid. And after her third major concussion, she lost soccer, a sport that she loves so much.
Kaitlyn grew up in a small town in North Carolina and moved to Sarasota at the start of her freshman year, during the height of the pandemic, and that was something else she lost: a year of in-person lessons, just when she needed human contact the most. She did her best to make new friends virtually and only ever saw her classmates in person during varsity soccer practice or band practice.
During her sophomore year, after she left soccer to avoid the risk of long-term serious damage that could come with another concussion, Kaitlyn threw all her energy into the theater program at Riverview High School. Though she isn’t an actor, she loves to help create the worlds that come alive when the stage curtains open. As a stage manager, she can do just that, and her creative side has flourished.
All her life, Kaitlyn had been pushed toward a career in STEM. Her dad was an engineer, her mother works in information security, and her sister is in IT. Even in school, in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Riverview, she has felt pushed toward STEM-related courses. For years, Kaitlyn had planned to follow that pathway and pursue a career as an optometrist, but she’s always been attracted to the arts too, and, just maybe, she wonders, her creative side was jarred loose after her last concussion—because she decided to pursue a career in theater and set design.
It can be hard for students in high school to chart courses that make, for them, the most sense. Pressures abound, at home and at school. Doubts creep in, and misgivings.
Kaitlyn found much-needed support during her sophomore year. As she was dealing with lingering issues from her last concussion, she met an Education Foundation of Sarasota County Student Success Coach. Soon she connected with a second coach and developed a strong support network as she navigated the complex process of planning for a future so foreign and full of external pressure.
As a junior, Kaitlyn heard about the Disney Dreamers Academy. This program brings together remarkable high school students from across America for a four-day event that celebrates the creative spirit and the imagination. Kaitlyn was apprehensive. Thousands of students apply each year—and only 100 Dreamers are selected. She feared her story wasn’t compelling enough, and there was little encouragement to pursue such a creative endeavor. Why spend the time and energy?
She shared her misgivings with her Student Success Coaches, and both resoundingly encouraged Kaitlyn to apply. So she started writing her application. On Halloween, she sat in her driveway finalizing her responses. She clicked Submit. And then waited. A few months later, she found out that she’d been accepted.
For four days in Orlando, Kaitlyn networked with fellow Dreamers while hearing from and meeting industry leaders, Tony-Award-Winning actors, creators, fashion designers, and so many other inspiring individuals. She met imagineers who were doing the very job she plans to pursue. It was, as she said, a “once in a lifetime experience,” one that instilled in her the power of resilience and of imagination and creativity.
Along with attending the Disney Dreamers Academy last spring, Kaitlyn was recognized as a STRIVE Award recipient. The awards, sponsored by the Education Foundation, celebrate high school juniors and seniors who have experienced significant challenges and overcome them to succeed. In addition to a certificate and cash gifts she can use to offset costs of college applications, college visits, or other related expenses, the recognition, along with her experience as a Disney Dreamer, has provided Kaitlyn with the confidence she needs to persist and chart the course that makes the most sense to her.
Today, as a senior who has already been through so much and has persisted and found her pathway, Kaitlyn continues to visit the Education Foundation’s community resource center to work with her Student Success Coach, getting help navigating the applications to different colleges and different programs. It’s made such a difference. In fact, at the urging of her coach, she applied early to the University of Central Florida and now knows that she’ll be enrolled in their new Theme Park and Attraction Management program in the fall! Having a trusted adult in her corner, supporting and encouraging her every step of the way, has helped a dreamer dream big.