Though the rate of teen pregnancy in America is dropping considerably every year, it still happens.
And in most cases, the mother has to, unfortunately, drop out of high school to care of her new baby. However, that wasn't the case for Odalis Contreras because when she fell pregnant in her sophomore year, she was determined to have her baby and complete her education for the good of her child.
And despite the odds being stacked against her, she has pushed through and graduated!
Odalis Contreras found out she was pregnant when she was just a sophomore in high school but she became determined to finish her education and not become just another statistic.
According to a report by Planned Parenthood, approximately 67.8 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 which translates to nearly 750,000 American teenagers, become pregnant each year.
Eighty-two percent of these pregnancies are unintended and it was also revealed that teen mothers are "less likely to graduate from high school and more likely than their peers [sic] to live in poverty and to rely on welfare."
Another report by Child Trends found that teenage pregnancy significantly affects the rate of high school dropouts.
In an interview with Good Morning America, Contreras revealed why she has pushed herself to complete her education.
"Education is the most important to me because it has a higher chance of taking me out of poverty than anything else, the eighteen-year-old explained.
"If I didn't finish high school or if I don't start college and finish it then I feel like my son is going to follow down that path."
Odalis gave birth to baby Angel Liam on January 4th, 2019 who was born prematurely, resulting in his mom missing a month of schooling.
This caused her to fall behind with her precious schoolwork. To get caught up, she transferred to ASU Prep Digital, an online school founded by Arizona State University, which allowed her to be a full-time student on her own schedule while also taking care of her son.
Nonetheless, even with the ability to do it on her own time, it wasn't an easy ride. Angel would be up all day and sleep at night, which meant Contreras could only do her schooling at night. It worked at first, she said, but eventually led to her never having any time to rest.
"I didn't sleep for the first 4 months. It was hard," she said.
"It was mentally draining at points because I didn't know if it was going to be worth it at the end," she admitted, adding that there were many points through her junior and senior years where she wanted to give up.
Despite everything, it was Contreras' determination to give her family a better life that motivated her to graduate.
"She was adamant about graduating on time," Karen Sanderson, a learning success coach at ASU Prep Digital said.
"I told her I could talk to my supervisor about graduating a little bit later than spring 2021. There's no shame in that. And she said, 'No I want to graduate in spring 2021.'"
Sanderson acts as a guidance counselor for students, monitoring their progress and helping them through their timetables. For Contreras in particular, Sanderson put her on a 4-by-4 schedule where she would do eight classes per semester - 4 classes per 8 weeks - as well as summer classes.
"It's a lot of work," Sanderson said, "But I stayed on top of her. I talked to her a lot."
"Ms. Sanderson was always on top of my grades - on top of everything," Contreras said, "When I wouldn't log into school for just one day she would text me, 'Is everything okay? Did anything happen at home? Are you fine?'"
"If they're struggling, part of my job is to get a plan with them. Talk to them about what's working, what's not working, and time management and motivation," Sanderson added, "Just kind of gets them back on track. That's a huge, huge part of my job."
Contreras' family rallied around to support her…
"My mom took 6 months off work to help me take care of Angel. It was hard for her but she loves him so much. She would do anything for him." The mom went on to say that even after those 6 months, her mother would continue to help with Angel wherever she could, including taking him out so that she could focus on her schoolwork in silence.
Nevertheless, Contreras and her son have a deep attachment to one another, with her even admitting that sometimes she was heartbroken when she had to put her schoolwork before Angel: "It felt like I was leaving him or abandoning him."
And in May of this year, when it was Contreras' time to walk across the stage, Angel was right up there with her.
"He deserves it too," the young mom said.
"To actually see her in the flesh, with her tears streaming down and to see how precious Angel was in his little suit with his white tennis shoes... I can't put it into words but it definitely made my career," Sanderson said of the moment, which was also the first time the pair met in person.
However, this isn't the end of education for Contreras…
This fall, she will be attending community college, where she plans to complete two years before transferring to Arizona State. While she is still deciding the options for her future career, Contreras enjoys the idea of real estate or being a newborn intensive care unit nurse, as Angel was in the NICU himself.
"That's in my heart," Contreras said. "That's something I want to do with my heart."
Her advice to others comes from what's she's experienced over the last three years: "Keep going. Whatever you're doing, you're doing to better yourself."