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Jenna Colston

At 19, newlywed Jenna Colston had a textbook-perfect five-year plan for the future. Already enrolled as an education major at the University of North Texas, she and husband Jamie wanted to complete their degrees and establish their careers before starting a family. Six months into her sophomore year, Jenna faced a bump in her plan when she found out she was pregnant.
Determined to stay the course at school, Jenna battled through morning sickness and completed the semester with a goal to pick up her schoolwork after the birth. That plan came to a screeching halt when the couple’s first son, Drew, was born with Down syndrome and a host of health problems to go along with the diagnosis. Instead of re-enrolling in school, the Colstons moved temporarily to Cincinnati in order to be near the specialists needed to treat Drew’s congenital health problems. Before the end of the year, Jenna was pregnant again, and daughter Cassie joined the family. As her days became consumed with caring for two small children, the young mother felt her dream of finishing college slipping away.
Jenna always kept her desire for a college degree in the back of her mind, but as each year passed, the door seemed to be wedged shut even tighter. On two separate occasions, Jenna started school again, but Drew’s health problems pulled her away after just one semester. “There was a part of me that just had to admit that this was something that was never going to happen for me,” she says. Instead, she wholeheartedly devoted herself to being a wife and mother, and found her days filled with typical parental challenges as well as the added difficulties of navigating the world of a child with special needs. In 2006, the family welcomed a third child when they adopted Sophie from Guatemala. When Sophie started school, Jenna became deeply involved in volunteering for her elementary classroom, reminding her just how much she’d wanted to have a classroom of her own.
There was just one thing keeping her from her dream job – that elusive college degree. In 2011, Jenna was resolved finally to reach her goal. “I was just determined that this was going to be my year,” she says. Re-enrolling for a fourth time at UNT, she found her greatest ally in her guidance counselor. Not only did he look at her past coursework, but he helped her see how her life experience had prepared her for her future career. The years she’d spent as a mom to a child with special needs made her a perfect candidate for a Special Education Certificate. She passed the certification test easily and went on to complete her degree with honors. With schooling complete, Jenna planned to skip the formality of the graduation ceremony, but her family encouraged her to revel in the moment. “As I stepped across the stage, it suddenly hit me that I had achieved a dream 24 years in the making,” she says.
With that mountain conquered, Jenna is now looking toward the future and searching for a teaching position as a non-traditional graduate. “There is a part of me that is nervous about being an older job-seeker,” she says, “but I know that my life experiences have prepared me to take on this next challenge.” She expects the 24 years of real-world learning to be her greatest asset as a teacher. “In the end, it took a little longer than five years, but it turned out to be the perfect plan for me.”