Triumph Over Challenge

Now age 17, Kolton Grider became the primary caretaker for his terminally ill mother—who has since passed—before he even entered middle school. Learn the challenges he faced, the lessons he learned and how he will graduate in Spring 2024 with the help of Launch.
By Savannah Waszczuk

Kolton Grider got his first taste of adulthood when he was still a young child. “I was 7 years old when my parents got a divorce, and right after that my mom got super sick,” Kolton says. “It was just us, so I started helping take care of her—and my baby sister—back then.”

Originally from Cave Springs, Missouri, Kolton attended multiple schools during his elementary years. “We moved around from town to town in what I like to call, ‘The Sticks,’” Kolton says. “I went from Dadeville to Walnut Grove… school became really hard for me since we were moving so much.”

Kolton continued acting as his mother’s primary caregiver for the following 10 years—all while he was also trying to attend school, and all while her health continued to gradually decline. “I remember back when I was in middle school, and I really thought life sucked,” Kolton says. “I wouldn’t want to sit in class and do all of the paper work and assignments—I was always so tired and preoccupied with all that I had going on at home.”

Shortly after Kolton entered high school, his mom got much worse. “When she first got sick years ago, it started with diabetes,” Kolton says. “But then she eventually developed ketoacidosis, and that led to organ failure. She was on dialysis.” Day after day, Kolton watched her health dwindle. “She got to a point where her body was slowing down,” Kolton says. “She passed in August 2022. And at that time, I had to start living as a ‘big kid,’ because I was on my own. That’s what really led me to drop out of school without even filling out dropout forms.”

Life as a Teenage Adult

“I started working at Woods Supermarket right after my mom passed away in August,” Kolton says. This was around the same time that he first dropped out of school. “For two months, I was able to live by myself in the house where mom and I lived, because our landlord was really cool,” Kolton says. “But then I moved in with my cousin Katie.”

While he was living with his extended family, Kolton also began attending Springfield’s Hillcrest High School. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long, and he was soon out of school again—and he was also on the hunt for a new place to call home. “But my next roommate was Destiny,” Kolton says. “And Destiny is the one who told me about how she graduated school early. She didn’t live the most calm life, either, but she graduated with the Missouri Options program. That’s when I started researching, and that’s how I found Launch.”

Learning With Launch

Kolton re-enrolled in school with Launch at the start of the Fall 2023 semester. “This was actually my third experience in learning online,” he says. “I had first taken some Launch classes when I was in Walnut Grove, and during COVID I stayed home and did Launch classes, too.”

This time around was different, though, as Kolton had an extra level of support—he quickly began working with Launch Graduation Advisor Matt Burke, who helped him develop a plan to graduate. “I actually started out by taking the HiSET tests,” says Kolton, who was working to earn his high school diploma with the Missouri Options program at press time. “I did some of the HiSET study packets, and then I went in and passed the Science test on my first try. That’s when I realized I knew a lot of the material, and that gave me confidence to keep going.”

After passing all of the HiSET exams, Kolton began working to earn his required credits—Health, Government and Personal Finance. “I work on school on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he says. “For the HiSET, I would use Tuesdays to study and Thursdays to test. That took me two months. Now I meet with Matt for tutoring and to work my way through the units.”

These twice-per-week meetings are great for both keeping Kolton accountable and showing him support. “Matt has been a really amazing teacher so far, and he’s a big part of the reason why I’ve been so motivated to get everything done,” Kolton says. “He definitely believes in me, and it’s really nice to have him on my side.”

Planning for the Future

When Kolton is questioned about his goals, there’s one that comes to mind rather quickly. “Well, first I’d like to graduate,” Kolton says. “My mom dropped out of high school, but she always wanted the best for me. Any time I would complain, she would tell me that she always regretted dropping out, and that I would, too. And then she’d say, ‘So sit down and do your homework.’”

In addition to graduating—which is scheduled to happen in early Spring 2024—Kolton would like to advance at his current job. “I’d like to become a manager at Woods,” Kolton says. “I mean with a full manager title on my name badge, and with manager pay.” But he’s not going to stop there. “And eventually, I think I want to become a CNA (Certified Nurse’s Assistant), and then work my way up the ladder to become a nurse or some kind of doctor,” Kolton says.

And thanks to his many years of experience caring for his mother, Kolton knows that a career in the medical field is one he would be passionate about. “It definitely all made my life hard, but I wouldn’t change anything,” Kolton says. “It really taught me that you only have one body and you only have one life, so you have to make the most of it.”