While most girls were worrying about final exams or getting asked to prom, three years ago, Mariah Ochoa's 15-year-old mind was consumed with questions of how she would finish high school with a newborn baby boy. Now, at 18, she is working to finish her degree with the help of a unique school program aimed at supporting teen parents.
"It really helps to know that you're not the only one going through all that," said Ochoa, explaining the camaraderie she finds in the teen parent program at San Antonio High School.
While about half of teen parents do not graduate high school, the school works to challenge that statistic.
"Other programs in Rohnert Park have opened and closed. But ours really makes all the difference in these kid's lives," said Victoria Dutton, childcare director at SAHS, since the program began in a trailer in the school's parking lot in August 1995.
Dutton works alongside Tiana Griffin who teaches the mothers hands on childcare as well as behavioral child development concepts and nutrition.
"It's a pretty young crowd currently. They're 14 to 18, which is rare. Normally they're 15 to 18," said Dutton of the program's current group of 13 students. Although traditional SAHS students must be 16 to attend, exceptions are made for the teen parent program because, all too often, it is the only way these students can graduate.
"We've had very few actually dropout. They might transfer to adult classes, or another program but they really need to finish school and they understand that," said Dutton.
Ochoa credits the program for making it possible for her to graduate next year, just a few months behind her peers. Ochoa was already 6 months to term with her son, Giovanni, when she realized she was pregnant, which caused her to abruptly stop going to school.
"I just left. I didn't think I was ever going back. I thought it was impossible," said Ochoa.
Perhaps the hardest part of Ochoa's experience as a teen mother was feeling alienated from loved ones during her pregnancy.