At a recent meeting of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, three young high schoolers were named Student of the Month at their respective schools. Their academic achievements were impressive. One of the honorees is an editor at her school's student-run paper and a member of numerous clubs. Another is a skilled classical guitarist with a grade point average approaching 5.0 and the ability to juggle five balls at once.
And then there's Liliana Rios Alvarez.
Liliana Rios Alvarez hasn't shattered the 4.0 GPA mark with Advanced Placement classes, nor is she a leader of any school clubs. However, she has mastered a juggling act of her own -- maintaining a 3.69 GPA while simultaneously working 20 hours a week at a local fast food restaurant and raising her daughter after becoming pregnant when she was a freshman at Los Altos High School.
Today, she is close to graduating from the Mountain View Los Altos Adult Education program and has plans to continue her studies, with the aim of becoming a medical assistant.
It hasn't been easy getting to where she is, Alvarez admits. Since becoming pregnant and giving birth at 15, her life has changed dramatically. She rarely sees the father of her child, many of her old friends don't come around anymore, and her weekends -- a time formerly reserved for hanging out with friends -- are now spent working at Burger King and caring for her daughter.
Fortunately for Alvarez, and many other local teen moms, the high school district's adult school has a program designed specifically for high school-aged girls with children.
The Young Parents Program gives girls like Alvarez an opportunity to keep up with their studies without falling behind on raising their children.
On a recent Tuesday, a handful of young mothers and their children gathered on the bottom floor of the MVLA Adult Education building, in a classroom that doubles as a daycare center. They began their day at the Young Parent Program as they always do -- sharing a group lunch with their infants and toddlers. After that, it's off to "circle time" where the girls play with their children for a bit before heading to tutoring sessions or the computer lab to take online courses.
The program allows the teens to continue their high school courses, as well as learn parenting skills, without ever straying too far from their children, said Janie Garcia, an English teacher at the adult school and instructor in the Young Parents Program.
The daycare element of the Young Parents Program is crucial, Garcia said, as the young mothers tend to want to be close to their children at all times. "These girls don't have to come here," she said, "but they definitely see the comfort level."
On top of providing the young women with peace of mind, the daycare center and parenting skills component means that the children are benefiting from the program as well.
Karla Bautista, a 16-year-old Mountain View High School Student, has been coming to the program since she found out she was pregnant. She says she likes knowing that her daughter, Destiny, who is a little over 1 year old, is right down the hall from her when she is studying. Bautista also likes that her daughter is able to play and socialize with other children her age -- something she likely wouldn't be doing nearly as much if it weren't for the Young Parents Program.
While Alvarez and Bautista's daughters have been learning how to share, play and make friends, Alvarez said that she has made some new friends of her own.
"I lost most of my friends -- or at least the ones that I thought were my friends," Alvarez said, reflecting on the months after her pregnancy. "My life is about changing diapers now. Me and my old friends don't have a lot in common now. They're more interested in going out, going out to parties. Now my major interest is making sure my daughter is well taken care of."
She now has a network of peers that she met in the Young Parents Program. Sometimes, they meet up and go out to the park together with their children.
If Alvarez, Bautista or any of the other teen mothers ever feels down, or is having trouble at home or with a personal or romantic relationship, they have access to a counselor through the program.
Hilary Schlossman, a mental health consultant with the San Carlos-based StarVista, comes to the program every Tuesday.
"My role is really to help the young moms with communication -- around parenting issues related to their babies, the birth experience, family, relationships -- and then also helping them to think about goals and next steps after they leave here."
Schlossman also works with the De Anza College Child Development Center, and she works on bridging the gap between the Young Parent Program and the local community college, by helping connect the teen moms with resources at the college, so that if they decide to pursue a degree at De Anza, their transition will be that much smoother.
"We give them a safe environment, free of judgment," Garcia said, explaining that the girls in the program know that their classmates are familiar with their own struggles -- which is not often the case in the local mainstream high schools.
Garcia said the program is important, as it gives bright girls who got pregnant too young a chance to keep working toward their goals. Not many neighboring cities have a similar program -- at least none Garcia is aware of. "We provide them resources that they wouldn't be able to get otherwise."
Connecting the local teen moms with resources is incredibly rewarding, Garcia said. During the three years she has worked for the Young Parent Program she has seen many strong young women come up and earn their high school diplomas. All of them have been prepared to work hard and do what they need to do to finish high school, she said. They've just needed a little community support.
"These girls do a lot," Garcia said. "They really take advantage of every opportunity we give them and they really take it seriously. I love what I do. It's cool to be a part of it."