After Gracie Hamman’s mother left her as a young child, life was a whirlwind and oftentimes a struggle, she said.
She moved from Oklahoma to Johnstown.
She ended up in foster care and was eventually adopted by her grandparents.
But over the years that followed, she was never in one place for long.
She and her sister moved back and forth from public schools to cyber schools and back again, but neither fit, Gracie said.
“Wherever I went, I ran into problems,” she said, saying she avoided socializing and didn’t connect well with classmates.
The fallout from her difficult early years often left her feeling isolated, whether if she was in a classroom full of fellow students or in a secluded cyber school setting, she added.
Today, Gracie is a junior at the Milton Hershey School who has her mind set on finding a career helping those met with similar challenges.
“Being here has helped me figure out more about myself,” Gracie said, noting that the personal education and mentoring she’s received has allowed her to build her confidence and figure out what she wants to do with her life.
After spending years as the “quiet” girl, she’s now pursuing a law and security career pathway at the private school and was recently part of a mock trial team that was a district finalist in the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s statewide competition.
As a team member this year, she was able to sit on the witness stand to testify in a fictional civil case involving a wrongful termination claim before a panel of judges and a jury that scored them – something she said she never could have faced before attending the school.
The Daughin County-based Milton Hershey School is a private, co-educational home and school for more than 2,000 students from families of lower income.
It serves students from pre-K to 12th grade.
Gracie has spent much of the past four years there, living in a home on campus with eight to 10 other female students when she isn’t taking classes at the school.
According to Admissions Counselor Pat Turnpaugh, the path that led Gracie to the Milton Hershey School isn’t an unusual one.
“There are times, through no fault of their hometown school or their loved ones, that there are circumstances preventing children from actually receiving the education. They are being taught,” he said. There can be roadblocks to learning, and for generations of underprivileged youth, the Milton Hershey School has helped them bridge that gap, he added.
“For some, it’s students who need stability and structure. For others, it’s opportunities and open doors,” he said. “We look at each child individually.”
The Milton Hershey School markets itself as a cost-free school to families within 200 percent of the federal poverty line, meaning a family of four with an income of up to $50,000 could have children who qualify for the school, Turnpaugh said.
According to Milton Hershey school data, Gracie is one of 13 students at the school from Cambria County. Another 10 are from Somerset County.