While the average morning for a Samo student consists of finishing the previous night’s math homework, eating a couple of spoonfuls of cheerios and rushing out the door in a frenzy, senior Adriana Sanchez has to not only do all of the above but also wake her 18 month old son, change his diaper, feed him and leave at 7:20 a.m. in order to drop him off at the daycare center before school begins.
Rubbing her sleep deprived eyes as she settles into first period, Sanchez reflects on her fictional hero, Ma Joad, from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” whose favorite mantra has become Sanchez’s own personal motto,
“We’ll do what we got to do.”
What Sanchez “got to do” was leave her friends and her old life at Venice High School behind so that her son could attend the nursery at Samo. As part of the state program Cal-Safe (California School Age Families Education), Samo’s nursery is the only facility on the West Side of Los Angeles that offers a nursery, counseling, and parenting classes.
Gizelle Graves, the director of the Infant/Toddler Center at Samo, believes that the services provided at the nursery help the teens balance their two lives as a full time student and mother.
“Teen pregnancy is a part of our society, if [the teen mothers] didn’t have this program, they would most likely drop out of school. Then what would happen to the child? [This program] is not only helping and supporting a teenager to finish high school but is a really critical component in helping the infant because it is important that the infant has a secure and predictable environment. We are making an impact on the infant as well as the teenager,” Graves said.
Graves further explained that the state’s rationale for funding and continuing this program is to try to prevent students from having a second child before they have graduated. The percentage of teenage mothers with more than one child is 20 percent. This program gives the teen mothers the opportunity to have an education, which will lead to having a job so they can provide for their families and be a mother at the same time. Many teens would otherwise dropout and rely on social services to survive, costing the state more money than this program.
13 mothers from Samo, Olympic High School and independent study make up the West Los Angeles chapter of the Cal-Safe program. The nursery allows these teens to continue their studies and helps alleviate their concerns about the safety of their child.
The nursery allows her to transition smoothly between her two lives: from changing her son’s diaper to walking from Pre Calculus to Japanese.
“I have to get my mind off of him for a while to do my work because if I am always thinking about how he is doing, I can’t focus,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez plans to live with her parents through college but then move out once she gets a steady job after school. In the meantime, her whole family including her five siblings helps take care of her baby, Marlon III. This support system allows Sanchez to do her schoolwork.
This support system includes her son’s father, Marlon Gutierrez, who she sees once a week when he is not working at his dad’s body shop company to help pay for her family’s rent.
This real work involved in raising a child is often absent in MTV shows that glamorize teen pregnancies.
“[MTV shows] are not real and truthful. There’s too much drama in the shows. They don’t convey the right emotions like when a mom is thinking about giving her baby up for adoption,” Sanchez said.
The challenges that Sanchez believes are not depicted in these shows include the sheer discomfort of being pregnant.
As a full time student, Sanchez had a hard time adapting to the physical changes of being pregnant.
“When I got up I would feel all tired. It was hard getting fat with stretch marks. I couldn’t sit at tables and desks because the baby was moving too much. It was bugging me; he was putting his feet in my ribs! I thought it was going to be easy being pregnant, getting a big belly and everything but it wasn’t,” Sanchez said.
Not only was this pregnancy hard physically but also emotionally.
“Everybody looks at everything weird, and say things behind people’s backs. I did care in the beginning about what people thought but then I realized that it’s not their baby, they’re not giving me money to support him or raise him, so why should I care? I had to grow a tough skin,” Sanchez said.
Instead of being defeated by the stares, Sanchez continued to stay in school.
Sanchez strongly believes in the importance of staying in school, so the child can grow up in a healthy environment.
“When I was at Venice I used to tell a lot of girls, ‘Don’t get pregnant, because it’s going to be hard for you guys’ and next thing I know five girls get pregnant and drop out of school.”
Although Sanchez didn’t have to abandon her education, she was forced to leave many aspects of her old life behind.
Sanchez can no longer has time to participate in her passion for Cumbia dancing, which is a courtship ritual dance similar to salsa dancing.
“I love Cumbia dancing because when I was a little girl, my dad would teach me how to do the dance. It’s part of where I’m from: Puebla, Mexico. I love moving to the rhythm of the music, going slow then fast then medium. I like to dance in front of people and show how fascinating it is and try to get others to join,” Sanchez said.
Unfortunately, she had to leave behind a lot more than her Cumbia.
“I lost everything. No more going out, I have to be home everyday, I have to take my child everywhere I go—but I did gain a new happiness and support system,” Sanchez said.
Although Sanchez loves her son, right now her biggest struggle is raising a rambunctious, expressive boy who loves to put up a fight.
“I love everything about him. He’s not a normal baby, he likes communicating with everybody,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “He likes having fun; he’s like me. I will argue with my parents sometimes and he begins to copy me, fighting with my parents as well!”
Graves notes the unique relationship Sanchez has with her son.
“Adriana is dedicated, very involved and attached to her son. Adriana is a nurturing mother.”
According to Graves, Sanchez has managed to keep up with the pace of school and will overcome a major obstacle this year when she graduates.
“We’ve had students over the years that have changed their way of thinking and really get the picture. It really takes a person that’s resilient to keep going and moving forward. It seems that they know after going through this that they are not just responsible for themselves but for someone else,” Graves said.
According to Graves, 95 percent of the teen moms in the program sign up for Santa Monica College (SMC), technical schools or universities. Sanchez plans to be apart that percentage in going to SMC then transferring to UCLA to become a nurse so she can help people in downtown L.A. where they don’t have enough medical aid.
Sanchez sees this as a way of giving back the support and help she received from the Samo nursery.
“I want to help those in need the way Samo helped me when I most needed it,” Sanchez said.
In order to achieve this goal of hers, Sanchez continues to work hard in her studies.
According to Sanchez’s Japanese teacher, Ritsuko Rowe, Sanchez manages to stay on top of her workload while putting 100 percent of her effort and time into it. She never asks for extra time to complete assignments. She is treated just like any other student in the classroom.
“Adriana works very hard. She is an amazing person, kind, sweet and very generous.”
Sanchez’s newfound responsibilities have shifted her attitude towards her education.
Before I never used to care. I would ditch a lot and get involved in crazy things. Now that I have a kid, I have had to concentrate on getting my work done in order to get my degree,” Sanchez said.
Her lack of care for an education changed dramatically into the student she is today.
“She is a very conscientious student. She makes sure that she completes everything she needs to complete. She is very ‘on top of it,’ “ S House advisor Amanda Audet said.
With this experience comes maturity, and Sanchez has bloomed into a responsible adult.
When the bell rings and everyone stampedes off campus or to the food stand, Sanchez quietly heads for the nursery to spend precious time with her child. Even though he might be sleeping, she asks for a report from the staff as to how his day has been going. As the lullaby music plays around the sleeping babies, Sanchez takes some moments to gaze in wonder at Marlon III before the bell for fifth period jolts her back to reality.
Aware of all the sacrifices she has had to make in her young life, Sanchez is forever grateful to the Samo nursery that she never had to make what would have been the hardest choice of all: her education or her baby.