The odds were stacked against Ana Chavez ever earning a high school diploma.
She was 9 when she came to Pasco, unable to speak English. Then she slipped off track in her classes at the end of ninth grade.
This was all before she discovered she was pregnant.
But Chavez, 19, was single-minded in the pursuit of her goal, New Horizons lead teacher Michelle Smith said.
“She had an amazing focus on what she needed to do,” Smith said. “She could have given up many, many, many, many times, and we’re so proud of her.”
Originally from Mexico, Chavez begged her family to bring her to the United States, she said.
Her request was driven by the promise of a better life, combined with a desire to escape an uncertain future in her home country.
“It is way different (in Pasco) than over there. It’s a harder life than here,” she said. “Over there I would only eat once or twice (a day). Over here you can eat all that you want as many times as you want.”
She would have been placed in third grade, but was held back a year so she could learn English before moving on to more difficult concepts.
She could have given up many, many, many, many times, and we’re so proud of her.
Michelle Smith, New Horizons teacher
While she did well through elementary and middle school, her attitude changed at she approached the end of high school.
She started having disagreements with her parents. She started skipping classes, and not coming home.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t get home for two or three days,” she said. “I would be going from friend’s to friend’s house. I just wanted to have fun.”
When she saw her grades begin to slip, she began to think she couldn’t succeed. She switched between going to school at Chiawana and in Yakima.
Then, sometime in her second year of high school, after she skipped a week of classes, a family member told her about New Horizons. Initially, she didn’t know if it would be a good fit, but she decided to switch.
The personal attention she received at the alternative high school helped change the trajectory of her life, she said.
It was hard to come back to the old me, where I was staying positive the whole time.
Ana Chavez, New Horizons graduate
Part of the move to New Horizons included a change in her attitude. She decided to be positive and work toward her goal.
“I like to be responsible and stay on track,” she said. “It was hard to come back to the old me, where I was staying positive the whole time.”
She was on track to graduate when circumstances conspired against her one more time. She began to feel sick while she was in class.
For the nine months before that, people asked if she was pregnant, but all of the signs, including a test, indicated she wasn’t.
“I never had any symptoms,” she said.
Until she started feeling sick at the end of last year. She went to the hospital and found she was nine months pregnant. Instead of deterring her from finishing, the birth of her child motivated her to complete her degree.
“I don’t want her to do what I did,” Chavez said. “I want her to see that she has two parents who actually finished high school.”
Chavez plans to attend Columbia Basin College, with the goal of a career in law enforcement.
Her message to other struggling students — don’t give up.
“It’s not hard. All you have to do is stay on track,” she said. “Don’t just sit there. Actually do something.”