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Student Stories

Breaking Boundaries: How One Student Overcame Chronic Health Challenges

November 17th, 2023
A headshot of Julie, Grad Solutions class of 2020

In the US today, many teens are struggling with attending school. Millions of students are managing chronic health conditions while also maintaining academic progress. The CDC estimates that more than 40% of school-aged children and adolescents have at least one chronic health condition in the United States. This means that despite not feeling well regularly, children and teens must continue to find a way to learn and make academic progress in an education system that is not equipped for their situation. 

A candid shot of a graduate smiling on their graduation day

That was the case for Julie Cochran. Before the expansion of online schools in 2020, Julie struggled in high school because of a chronic health condition. She was in her first year of high school when she began to experience multiple obstacles as a student. 

Struggling at a Traditional School

The first year of high school is often an exciting phase of life. In the beginning, it was for Julie. In her freshman year, she looked forward to all the experiences that high school had to offer. Unfortunately, her excitement turned to pain soon after. She began to experience migraines. The excitement of high school turned into struggle. 

While dealing with her health issues, she quickly fell behind academically. Still, she knew that she had to keep pushing to attend school. She decided to try online school with the hope of finishing school sooner. She enrolled in an online school but it wasn’t an ideal match. She continued to seek out the right one. In the process of trying out different schools, she fell behind even more. 

At age 17, Julie became pregnant and decided to drop out altogether. When she told her dad the news, she made a promise that she would one day go back and get her high school diploma.

Facing Tragedy & Uncertainty

She decided to attend a fast-paced charter school to finish school faster. However, due to her health issues, she continued to struggle and dropped out again. Her dad passed away soon after that. Ten days after her father passed away, she gave birth. 

Being the mother of a newborn was a challenge. Meanwhile, Julie worked hard to find a school where she could work at her pace. She tried several online schools. Most had a 35-hour-a-week minimum, which was a struggle for her. She was overwhelmed and ready to quit. However, she didn’t want to break her promise to Dad.

“I did not know how I could put so many hours a week into completing classwork, raise a baby, and going to work to support a child.”

Julie Cochran, Class of 2020

When she found Grad Solutions, she was ecstatic. It was the only high school diploma program that would allow her to study at her speed. She could stay enrolled as long as she made the minimum monthly progress goal. She enthusiastically enrolled and got started. She started making progress that she never could before. 

Determined to Earn Her Diploma

After some time, Julie began losing motivation. She received the first warning that she was not reaching her monthly progress goal. Around the same time, some of her family and friends were telling her that time was closing in on her. They told her she should settle for her GED and her dad would still be happy. 

The words of the people around her made Julie more determined to finish. She wanted to prove to them that she could complete her schoolwork and get her diploma, keeping her promise to her Dad. She also wanted to be a positive role model for her son. She wants him to know “….that no matter how many obstacles get in the way of your dreams and goals, you can do it,” said Julie. 

During quarantine in 2020, Julie worked hard and finished her last class. Not only was she able to prove the doubters wrong, but she relished that she fulfilled her promise to her Dad. She made her family proud and was the first child in her family of seven to get a high school diploma rather than a GED or less. She also made her mother proud. 

“There may be some students… wondering if they will make it to graduation and I want to tell you that you will! You can overcome anything, and you CAN reach your goals and dreams.”

Julie, Speaking at the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony

She is thankful for the teachers, mentors, friends, and family who supported her along the way and helped her make it to graduation. She is thankful for her mother who supported her along the way. She also knows that she would have made her dad proud. 

A decorated graduation cap, commemorating a graduate's parents

At the graduation ceremony, she shared her belief that finishing high school is “only the beginning for us.” She has a positive outlook. She is now studying Criminal Justice at Glendale Community College in hopes of fulfilling her dream to become a detective.


 1 National Survey of Children’s Health. NSCH 2018 19: Number of Current or Lifelong Health Conditions, Nationwide, Age in 3 Groups website. childhealthdata.org. Accessed February 24, 2021.

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