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'With grace and dignity:' Parker High School graduate uses smarts to stay on the right path

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Nick Crow
Friday, June 10, 2016

JANESVILLE — Parker High School graduate Lavonne Sieling may be more of an expert on teaching styles than some teachers.

She moved 10 times between sixth grade and her freshman year of high school.

For many, such constant change in environment would lead to a lack of focus.

Not for Sieling.

She's attending UW-Madison next fall to study neuroscience.

Sieling turned the personal adversity into a life learning moment.

"My aunt had a brain aneurysm last year, and I was talking to the doctor about what was going on, and I could tell he was a very smart man, but he had a very hard time trying to get across what he was trying to say," Sieling said.

"I like to think I'm a pretty smart person and could bring something into the field (of neuroscience) as far as people skills go. I have no problem talking to people but could also wrap my head around what's going on."

Sieling loves being busy. It helps her sleep, she said.

She's a robotics programmer and a Parker Playhouse actress.

She plays varsity soccer and in an orchestra.

She's an officer in Parker's Gender Sexuality Alliance, loves to read and is in AP and honors courses.

"I used to have a really hard time sleeping," Sieling said. "In middle school, I slept between two and four hours a night. How can I just make myself tired at the end of the day? If you just constantly go and go and hit your bed at the end of the day, you're going to pass out. It's really nice."

Sieling has succeeded in and out of the classroom despite adversity. Her parents were heavy drug users, and she lives with foster parents. She moved often during her formative years and at one point lived in a car for several months.

Many people would look at those instances as an "excuse," Sieling said. She uses them as a motivator.

"I've always excelled," Sieling said. "I am very malleable. I'm very adaptable to my surroundings. The biggest struggle for me mostly was personality wise figuring out where my personality fit in in the given setting.

"My elementary school report cards always said, 'Lavonne needs to be reminded who the teacher is,' because I was always so involved and engrossed and always wanted to know what was going on and why," she said.

Sieling's AP literature teacher, Crystal Callison, said Sieling "makes this world a better place to be" through her "confidence, smarts, empathy, a sense of humor and humility."

"I think Lavonne has learned much earlier than many people do how to advocate for herself and truly flourish in her independence," Callison said. "Rather than let her hardships embitter her or make her reliant on others, she has, in essence, risen to and above her circumstances with grace and dignity and a smile that would brighten anyone's day."

Sieling lived in Janesville until sixth grade, when she moved to Kentucky for one month, to Indianapolis for a month, back to Janesville for the first month of seventh grade, then Indiana, then back to Janesville to finish seventh grade.

She then went back to Indiana and began eighth grade, then moved to Omaha, Nebraska, for two months, then back to Indiana to finish eighth grade. She started her freshman year in Indiana and then after a month moved to Ellsworth, Wisconsin, for two weeks before coming back to Janesville.

She has been here since.

"I moved between my mom, grandmothers and friends," Sieling said. "In Nebraska, I actually lived with my mom's boyfriend's great aunt.

"We were just ... it was a mess," she said. "We were all over the place living with friends, family and other people's family. It was not good."

Sieling said her father went to prison when she was 8. Both of her parents were "heavy drug users," she said.

"In Nebraska, that actually was a commonality because in Omaha drugs are prevalent," Sieling said. "It's a really poor, large city. I felt like there it almost helped because then I was normal, surrounded by so many kids going through the exact same things as I was."

Sieling said that she never had the desire to follow the path of her parents because the negatives of drug use always outweighed the positives.

"Being 5 years old watching your dad come in your house strung out on heroin, you can't physically see the high they feel, but you can physically see the crash, for sure," Sieling said. "Being that young and seeing what terrible things it did. I remember thinking, 'Why are these people doing this? It doesn't make sense. No one looks like they are having any fun.'"

Sieling said her parents are smart but have made poor decisions she will not allow herself to make.

"My father's sister is a surgeon's assistant for open heart surgery on premature babies. She's a very, very, very smart lady. She always says about my dad that he could have done four times the schooling she did in a quarter of the time because he's so smart. He just makes real dumb decisions," Sieling said.

Sieling said her drive and motivation won't allow her to purse the path of her parents.

"I know where it leads," Sieling said. "I see what happens if you don't use, and I see what happens if you do. It just makes it very clear not using is pretty easy."

Sieling said moving often never distracted her from school because she loves learning no matter what the setting.

"It wasn't hard to focus in school moving around that much," Sieling said. "I love school.

"I did have a lot of debates with teachers about how to do things and how I'm being taught things because I'm that kind of person," she said.

In the end, Janesville always felt the most like home. She always felt like she could be herself and be involved, she said.

"No matter where we moved, we always ended up coming back to Janesville," Sieling said. "It's been a home to me. It's such an accepting environment. It's just the people; I've never really felt heavily judged in Janesville.

"People know my parents, and they know my backstory. I've never really felt the need to be anything that I'm not. It makes it really easy to grow."

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