Education

West Charlotte high senior serves low-income students in spare time

West Charlotte High School senior Jaylen Lowery, who has struggled with almost losing his enrollment and scholarship at Western Carolina University.
West Charlotte High School senior Jaylen Lowery, who has struggled with almost losing his enrollment and scholarship at Western Carolina University. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Jaylen Lowery, a West Charlotte High School senior, has been an IB student since he was in the sixth grade. The rigorous academic program gave him a heavy workload and deprived him of sleep. But at the end of the school day, Lowery takes time for others.

He works at UrbanPromise Charlotte, a faith-based literacy and education center, where he tutors low-income students and helps with their after-school programs.

“Making a difference is something that I personally strive to do every day,” Lowery said.

When Jimmy McQuilkin, the executive director of UrbanPromise Charlotte, gave a presentation at Lowery’s high school looking for help, Lowery knew he wanted to be a part of it. He brought four recommendations when he only needed two.

“Jaylen is definitely one of the most memorable young people that I’ve met,” McQuilkin said.

Lowery said he had lived in different towns and schools throughout high school and was bullied at times because of his clothes and other things. But he excelled in school and now has big goals to work with kids after graduating from college.

“That’s where the root of everybody’s problems begin, in childhood...,” he said. He wants to help kids when they’re young and vulnerable.

Monica Martin, his English teacher and IB coordinator, said Jaylen has always been service-oriented, finding time to give back to others.

“I have just always been so amazed with his resilience and his desire to learn,” Martin said. “He just walks to his own music and he is just fearless in that way.”

At the end of his senior year, Lowey was preparing to finish enrolling at Western Carolina University, to pursue a career in social work. However, Lowery suddenly found himself without a home and responsible for unexpected bills. Overwhelmed, he missed the deadline to send in his deposit and lost his enrollment spot.

“That was a big, big blow to my morale. I had honestly given up and I was just like ‘well, I’m not going to college’” Lowery said.

But Lowery had people on his side to help him out. McQuilkin gave him a place to stay.

“Jimmy always answers,” Lowery said.

Martin helped him contact administrators at WCU to get his enrollment slot back – with the fees waived. He even got a spot in an all-expenses paid summer program with housing, academic credit and a mentoring program.

For Lowery, this year came with unexpected obstacles, but he never let it get in the way of his academics or his work with UrbanPromise Charlotte. To anyone facing similar struggles, he has simple advice for them: don’t give up.

“You’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”

Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney

About this series

The Observer asked readers for suggestions of standout graduates. Today, we continue a series of stories about students who illustrate a range of accomplishments, including some who overcame significant obstacles.

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