Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Andrea Vallejos is slated to graduate from Albuquerque New Futures High School next summer. After that, she plans to attend college.
She isn’t sure what she will study, but she envisions becoming a probation officer. And she isn’t sure where she wants to go, but she is eying the University of New Mexico.
The 19-year-old always expected to wrestle with these issues during her senior year. But now her decisions seem to be more difficult than she anticipated, Vallejos told the Journal at a town hall for young parents and their children at UNM on Thursday.
The town hall consensus: Young parents need support to continue with their education.
Now a mother to 6-month-old Mykayla, Vallejos is contemplating her next steps so she can provide for her family.
“Most importantly now, because I have a daughter, I don’t want to have to need,” she said.
But, she says, college wouldn’t even be on the table if it weren’t for her high school’s day care program and flexible scheduling, which are enabling her to graduate.
Thursday’s conference, partly funded through the state Public Education Department, was held to show young parents some of their available resources and options.
And, PED Chief of Staff Daniel Manzano said, the department was also getting feedback on how to spend a federal grant to support expecting and parenting teens.
Like Vallejo, Irene Berni knows first hand the challenges young parents face. She was 16 when she gave birth to her daughter.
During her keynote speech at the conference, Berni recalled being terrified to tell her family that she was pregnant.
Berni brought up raw details as she told about learning to be a parent and dealing with a toxic relationship with her daughter’s father.
“I couldn’t help but ask, being a child myself, how was I going to raise one,” she said.
But ultimately Berni’s message was one of encouragement: She graduated from UNM and went on to become a teacher.
She emphasized the importance of support, too.
“I had so many resources,” Berni said. “If I had not utilized all the resources and accepted help along the way, my story would be completely different.”
For instance, she said, her Graduation Reality and Dual Role Skills, or GRADS, class, at Valencia High School in Los Lunas was indispensable.
GRADS is offered at schools statewide and teaches teen parenting skills and lifestyle tools. It kicked off in 1989.
Haylie Trujillo, 19, who wants to be a veterinary technician, echoed Berni.
Trujillo credited the GRADS program at Century High School, also in Los Lunas, for her ability to balance learning and raising her 2-year-old son, Kayden.
“That’s the big difference,” Trujillo said about the program.
Secretary of Education Karen Trujillo has her own ties to GRADS. She was a teacher in the program at the Cobre Consolidated School District in Bayard for two years.
“In my teaching career, it was the most impactful thing I ever did in the classroom,” the PED secretary said, tears making it hard to finish her sentence.
Trujillo told the Journal that she hopes to expand the GRADS program into more schools. It is now available at 26 sites.
According to the GRADS website, funding for the program comes from the state Legislature and is overseen in part by the PED.