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College freshman from Southern Oregon earns her way

When she was a fifth-grader and her family lived up on the remote Greensprings, east of Ashland, Kaya Crosby had the good fortune, for several years in a one-room Pinehurst schoolhouse, to get teacher Jim Impara, who taught her to work hard, read great books, and she could go anywhere in life.

She has.

This week, Crosby, 18, starts at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she will study political science and molecular biology, and she will be honored Friday when a 600-word essay she wrote will be published in the New York Times.

Raised in Southern Oregon, Crosby comes from a family of modest means, and early on she learned that if she wanted to go to the college of her dreams, she could achieve it, not just with her perfect 4.11 grade-point average, but also by attending a high-quality boarding high school — and somehow coming up with grants and scholarships, and earning money herself, which she did by babysitting in Ashland all this summer.

Her essay in the Times paid a dollar a word — or $600. The prompt from the Times said it seeks essays nationwide, “which entering freshmen submitted as part of their college application process, explaining how they grew up and the people who inspired their lives. It can be about work or lack of work, what it’s like to be rich or far from it, or some other topic that touches on money.”

The Times, says Kaya, doesn’t allow public view of essay winners until they are published Aug. 28, but she said, “It’s kind of a poem about how I grew up and how people in my life affected me. My mother definitely had an effect. She taught me perseverance, how to work hard and power through everything.”

Her mom, Terri Crosby, an elementary teaching assistant at Siskiyou School in Ashland, said Impara taught her daughter to “find her confidence and work harder. She likes to write, and it’s how she interprets the world. He encouraged reading of challenging novels and researching what she wrote about.”

Her mother said Kaya’s essay is “very emotional. She put lots of feeling into it, about how she wants to move forward into her future, paving her path for herself into a larger world. It made me feel very proud of her.”

Kaya’s favorite authors are George Orwell (“Animal Farm”) and Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” which taught her that “women should not be afraid to ask for things and take up space.”

Kaya, who is half Hispanic, adds, “What I want is to help people make their lives better. Whatever impact I have will be beneficial. I don’t know if it’s in politics. I don’t know if I like a lot of what’s going on there. I think we need to keep the country from falling apart. I would love to have a little stability.”

Kaya finished middle school at Ashland Middle School and worked to arrange scholarships for her high school years at Dunn School in Southern California. Last summer she attended University of California at Santa Barbara and got a scholarship there, which went toward tuition at Wellesley.

Her mom says, “She single-handedly forged her way through college. She very much has a passion and a dream and is working to fulfill it. Some family members helped, but we don’t have the resources to do that for her. That she paid for a four-year boarding high school and all the rest is pretty amazing.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Courtesy photoKaya Crosby will be honored Friday when a 600-word essay she wrote will be published in the New York Times.