When she became pregnant last fall, at age 18, Michelle Agreda had little motivation to continue her independent high school study program. Also, her severe morning sickness prevented her from working at Shoreline Amphitheatre, where she had previously sold tickets in the box office.
A high school student in Sunnyvale, she was already behind in class credits, and had watched her classmates graduate the summer before. After becoming pregnant, Agreda took a two-month break from her independent study courses through the Mountain View Los Altos Adult School, a part of the high school district, before discovering the school's Young Parents Program. The program offers afternoon classes, child care, and parenting programs for teen mothers and pregnant teens.
"Here everyone is the same," Agreda said. "You are trying to get your high school diploma. That is what you are here for."
Once enrolled in the program, Agreda restarted the economic, civic and health courses she needed, and will be graduating from the program this month with one other young mother. Four other young moms -- the 17 girls currently in the program range in age from 15 to 18 -- will graduate by the end of the summer, according to program supervisor John Mittan.
While some girls can choose to walk across the stage at their own high schools, Agreda plans to attend the Adult School ceremony on May 29, just weeks before she is expected to have her son, Aiden. She will take the next month off to rest and prepare for motherhood, and then hopes to find a job before continuing her education. In the meantime, she will continue to live with her parents, and is still together with her boyfriend, the baby's father.
"It was sad I didn't get to walk," Agreda said. "But I am going to walk now, even if it is by myself."
"It is helpful coming here," she added. "The teachers are pushing you."
Most students in the Young Parents Program are referred to it by educators at Mountain View or Los Altos high schools, but some, like Agreda, come from other nearby schools. Mittan said the work is "rigorous," but there is also flexibility for the mothers, something they might not have received at their regular high school.
Agreda said her pregnancy is not an issue in her neighborhood -- "Where I have grown up, a lot of people are open" -- but it might have been a different story at her high school. After another girl there got pregnant, she said, the teachers became overly cautious with her, and other students were sometimes judgmental.
At the Young Parents Program, the girls attend school from 12 to 3:30 p.m. four days a week. They start each day with a free lunch provided by the Adult School, which also offers a large selection of classes for other adult students.
One teacher directly oversees the independent classes, but there is a lot of extra support for the students, including transportation to and from the school, scholarship opportunities and programs for students with learning disabilities.
"It takes a village to help the students," said Laura Stefanski, director of the Adult School. "Their needs and demands are diverse."
Once a week, the girls also attend a group counseling session provided by the Community Health Awareness Council. Agreda said this is a good opportunity to get to know the other girls in the class, and see how they work through their emotions.
"We know it can be difficult," Stefanski said about her students, many whom are raising young children alone. "We want to remove that barrier."
While staff members push students to earn their high school diploma, once they turn 18, the students can chose to earn a certificate of General Education Development, or GED. Mittan said he had no records of graduation rates in the program.
"We do find success one way or the other," he said.
Now that she has almost graduated, Agreda, a confident girl, has planned the next stage of her life. She said she is not nervous, just anxious to give birth -- and to be done with back and leg cramps.
She is one of three students enrolled in the program to receive a scholarship, and plans to attend a training program to be a pharmacy technician. But Stefanski says many of the girls enrolled in the Young Parents Program are not so lucky.
"This community is sometimes the only community they will have," she said.
Last week, staff members took the students to see a play in San Jose. Even with the support of her immediate family, Agreda said, it has been helpful having people around who can relate to her and the physical changes she is experiencing.
"It's good to hear what I am going to go through even though they tell me the worst things," she said. "Even the first day I was here, the girls wanted to talk."