OGDEN -- When Cassie Cox dropped out of high school in 1992, all she saw were dead ends. Now, 19 years later, she inspires the at-risk students at Two Rivers High School to reach for the stars. She credits her life change to one major thing: education.
Cox remembers well the feeling of hopelessness she felt when she became pregnant at the age of 17.
"There were no schools like Two Rivers. I was scared. I was embarrassed and I literally ran away," Cox remembers. She had completed only the tenth grade, so she raised her son on her own for several years and worked at a job making $4.25 per hour.
"I was a high school dropout at a minimum wage job and $4.25 per hour does not pay the bills," she said. Those were very lean years for her and her son until one day she realized she had had enough.
"I went to the junior college with my son on my hip," she said. She took her GED with her son by her side and hasn't looked back.
She moved from a small Texas town to the Ogden area when she met her current husband, who was stationed at Hill Air Force Base. At that point she started to attend Weber State University, but all along she felt like she wasn't quite smart enough.
"People always had to tell me I was OK," Cox said.
In 2003 she graduated with a bachelors degree and started teaching at Two Rivers High School. There she has seen her former self in many of her students and strives each day to help them to have a better life and strive for the best in all things. She shares her story with them so they can see they too can become a success.
Cox earned her masters degree in 2006, but still felt something was missing.
"I just felt like I needed to get my high school diploma," she said. As she looked at all her credits she realized she was missing half a credit of American government. She decided to finish her requirements at Two Rivers.
"I looked around and I was sitting with students I had just taught," Cox said with a laugh. She was chosen to be the graduation speaker for the class that year. "I actually got to walk across the stage and get my diploma," an accomplishment that made her prouder than when she received her masters degree.
She has dedicated her career to make life better for her students.
"It's difficult to express clearly and articulately the impact Cassie has on those students," Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens said. Many of the students come to Two Rivers having struggled elsewhere, especially with English, and Cox is able to turn them around so they love it, Stephens said.
He has seen that because of her life experiences, she has an unmatched sense of empathy for her students.
"She gives us the sense to be able to achieve the unachievable," said Two Rivers senior Dylan Moore. Many of her students say that for the first time they have a teacher who doesn't pick out all the mistakes, but shows them things they are doing right.
"It's awesome to have a teacher care so much," student Seth Baty said of Cox.
But Cox feels she is the lucky one.
"There are great things happening here with incredible students," Cox said of Two Rivers. She wants to give her students the best education possible and open doors for them that have been previously shut. She has made a website, www.donorschoose.org, where people can go and donate money for her to take students to a musical in Salt Lake City, something many of her students have not experienced.
She spends many hours a week writing grants to bring things to her students because the alternative high school doesn't have the same funding sources of other schools, she said. She invites students to local authors' book signings and offers to buy the books if they can just get to the signing. An avid reader herself, Cox loves to share books she is reading with students and loves to see students who haven't been bookworms before turn into them.
Principal Jeff Marchant is thrilled to have her on board at his school.
"She is just an outstanding educator who loves and cares about kids," he said.
Both Stephens and Marchant said they could praise Cox endlessly.
"Her story is the stuff movies are made from," Stephens said.