Offering personal experience to the Teen Parent Program
Intro: Martha Morales has worked in the Roaring Fork schools for 17 years. For the last eight years she has worked as the nursery teacher in the Teen Parent Program at Yampah Mountain High School.
Morales: I was born in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and raised by a very brave mom. She had 11 girls and one boy, and I was the third youngest. Mom separated from my dad when she was 52. She was one of the first women in our village to leave her husband. It was very hard for her, but she felt she was better off on her own than staying with him. My father never seemed to care about us, so my older brother and sisters helped her raise us younger kids. She is my hero.
I came to the United States for the first time in the 1980s when I was 19. In those days I was having a hard time. I was a teen mom and, one day, I decided that I needed to get out of Mexico. So I got a visa and my daughter, Cynthia, and I came to visit my sister in Los Angeles.
I stayed with her for two years, and then I got pregnant again, so I went back to Mexico to stay with my mom. I worked there for eight years, and then I decided to come back to the United States and live with my other sister in Basalt. I wanted my daughter, Brisa, who was a U.S. citizen, to learn the language and culture of her country.
In those days, there weren’t very many Latinos in the valley, and I made pretty good money making tamales and selling them in the mobile home parks and gas stations. When I wasn’t doing that I was taking care of my daughters and helping my niece take care of her kids.
Gallacher: How long did you do that?
Morales: I did that for some years until my daughters had their babies. That’s when I realized I had to find a better job so I could help them. One day, I found a newspaper ad for a job at the Basalt elementary school helping special needs kids. I went for an interview and got the job.
Gallacher: How did that feel?
Morales: When I was in Mexico I always dreamed about working with kids. And, suddenly, I had the chance. It was unbelievable. I told people I was working in the school, and they would think I was the janitor. I felt so proud to be able to tell them that I wasn’t cleaning. I was working with kids. I felt like I was reaching my goal.
I worked with special needs kids for nine years in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood. Then, one day, I got a call from the principal at Yampah Mountain High School, and she asked me to come work there.
I was really excited because I had always wanted to work there. They always seemed so happy, and I thanked God that they had heard good things about me and wanted me there.
Gallacher: You had built a good reputation.
Morales: I worked really hard to learn English and do the best job I could. It wasn’t easy in those first years. I am still working to get my GED and improve my English skills.
I enjoy going to work every single day. I am working with the Teen Parent Program at the school and helping kids with their kids. The teen moms in the program are trying to stay in school and also learn how to be good moms. It’s not easy for them.
Gallacher: You understand better than most because you were a teen mom.
Morales: Yes, I was a teen mom, and my daughters were teen moms. I know how they feel and how tired and depressed they can get. I try to tell them all the time, “You can do it. We can do it, together.”
I tell the girls that we are there to help them, not to judge them. My greatest satisfaction comes when I watch them walking in the graduation ceremony, and I think back to the times when they felt like giving up. To see them get their diploma is the best moment. I cry all the time during graduation. These girls are like my daughters.
I hope to be a counselor someday. I have my high school diploma from Mexico, and I am working on my GED, so I can start taking college classes.
Gallacher: It sounds like you are a counselor even though you don’t have the papers.
Morales: I try to do the best job I can for the students. Because I speak Spanish and English, teachers depend on me to help find out what is happening with the girls so the school can figure out a way to help them.
Sometimes parents think that if you have a baby you are an adult, and they order the kid out of the house. I try to help the parents understand that, even though their daughter has made a mistake, she is still a child and she needs their love and support.
Gallacher: And how do you help the young moms?
Morales: We try to help the girls understand that the school is like a sanctuary for them and their kids. We work hard to make them feel safe and protected there. We want Yampah to be their second home.
We try to help them learn the adult things they need to take care of their babies — making doctor appointments, helping the baby learn. For us, the most important message is, “Don’t feel like your life is done because you have a baby.” I always say, “This is your start. Your baby is your armor and one more reason why you must get your diploma and continue to pursue your dreams.”
Some of the girls understand, but it takes longer for others. One girl told me she didn’t need school, she would do fine working physical jobs. She left school, but after she had her baby she called and said she wanted to come back and get her diploma. She told me that she realized that finishing school was a gift she could give her baby.
Gallacher: Yeah, there is nothing like a baby to make you stop and think about your life. How was that for you? You were a single mother who was being judged by friends and family.
Morales: It was so hard. Because I was young girl with a baby, some men thought I was available. A lot of married women were suspicious of me. That’s why I work so hard to let these girls know that they are valued and they can do it. “Don’t stop, don’t stop,” I tell them, “Make a vision for your future. You can do anything you want.”
Sometimes we get girls who are very angry and they act like they don’t want help from anyone. When I see those girls I make it my goal to be their friend, because they are the ones who really need help. I see myself in those girls, and I try to let them know that they are not alone.
All the time, I tell my granddaughters to be careful with their lives and wait to have babies, because I have seen how having a baby can change your life. I talk to them about sex, because they have to know what a responsibility it can be.
Gallacher: We aren’t very comfortable talking to kids about sex in this country.
Morales: It is the same in Mexico. Kids are growing up very fast these days, and it is hard to know what they are thinking. I don’t think we ask them how they are doing and really listen for the answer.
Many Latino parents are working two jobs, and the kids are left with someone else, so the only time to really be with the kids is on their day off. Parents convince themselves that their kids aren’t having sex, but sex is everywhere these days.
Gallacher: Your daughters must be very proud of you and the work you are doing.
Morales: I am proud of them. I hope that I have been the mother for them that my mom was for me. She sacrificed everything for her kids. Her birthday was the day before Thanksgiving, and I was able to take my daughter, Brisa, and my grandkids to see her this year. She is 94 now and still beautiful and strong.
Having my daughter and my grandkids together with my mom and my sisters and brother and my nieces and nephews made it the best Thanksgiving ever.
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