Jessica Higareda knows that being a teen mom is not easy, especially when one's education could be at stake.
Higareda, now 17, had her daughter, Delilah, when she was only 15. "It was really hard at first to keep my grades up," the Merced resident said.
On Thursday, Higareda was one of 16 teen moms who received a Morgan Scholarship from Planned Parenthood Mar Monte to help them continue their education.
Janalynn Castillo of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte said graduates of the Teen Success program are able to apply for the scholarship for up to five years to assist with their college educations.
The program, which is funded by Planned Parenthood donors and state funds, is meant to help prevent teenage girls from dropping out of high school and from having a repeated pregnancy.
"One of the expectations of the program is that they are required to maintain their current family size," she said.
As part of the one-year program, girls attend weekly support groups to help them stay in school, develop self-confidence and responsible behavior, foster decision-making skills, discuss and develop healthy relationships, and share the joys and challenges of parenting, according to Planned Parenthood.
The teens receive a $10 incentive every week and a $100 incentive after 25 weeks, Castillo said.
The program has seen girls as young as 12, but the average age is between 16 and 18.
Despite facing budget challenges, Castillo said the program is needed -- especially in the Central Valley. "We think it's important because it has a success rate," she said. "Over 96 percent of its members have maintained their family size."
The program helps the teens delay a second pregnancy and it also encourages them to complete high school, she said.
"More importantly, we have to let these young women know that they're not just a statistic and that they can continue to work on their goals. Jessica is an example of that," Castillo said.
Higareda was part of the 2012 class at Yosemite High School in Merced, but she graduated a semester early. She's now attending Merced College and plans to transfer to California State University, Stanislaus.
Higareda, who now lives on her own with her daughter, is planning to use her $500 scholarship money to buy a laptop. "It's hard going to school two hours earlier to use the computers in the library," she said.
The Teen Success Program taught her new skills, such as learning how to save money and budgeting, as well as being able to set goals, Higareda said.
"It really changed my life," she said. "I was never goal-oriented until I went into the program. After Teen Success, I was confident that I could do it."
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or firstname.lastname@example.org.