As the graduation season draws to a close, twenty four teen mothers in Holyoke are the latest to receive diplomas after passing the GED this year. Nineteen year old Brendalise Rivera held her daughter’s hand as each received a diploma. Rivera plans to study pharmacology and social work. But those are careers she wasn’t sure she’d be capable of three years ago when she dropped out of school.
“Girls would bully me because I was pregnant so I felt like I was being criticized by everybody. And every time they would try to make an example of teen pregnancy they would point me out.”
For the past two years, Rivera has been studying for her GED at the Care Center — a Holyoke non-profit that provides teen mothers with childcare, classes and activities as they prepare for the test. Rivera’s teacher Rosanna Lopez says like many of the other young mothers in her class, Rivera was discouraged by repeatedly failing the test.
“She was in a situation where we thought we were gonna loose her for a while so it’s like bringing in the baby daddy, bringing in the mom, bringing in the sister. As a community, help me help her see that she needs to be here.”
Rivera says Lopez surprised her this Tuesday.
“She said Brendalise come on. You’re not coming back. Come on you’re going testing We’re going to do this today. And not even three hours later she called me that I had passed. Yeah I can’t believe I’m graduating still.”
Holyoke has the highest teen birth rate in the state and among the lowest high school graduation rates. The Care Center — which is funded by the state and private donors — educates more than 120 young women each year, with about 60 enrolled at any one time.