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School district program helps teen mom earn scholarship

BELL GARDENS — After nearly flunking out of school, Shantell Gomez, a Bell Gardens High School senior and mother of a toddler, is on track to graduate in June with a 3.5 grade point average, and has received a scholarship to attend Mt. St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.

She is a product of the Montebello Unified School District’s California School Age Families (Cal-SAFE) program, a district spokesperson said.

Gomez is leading a campus club on health occupations, interning two days a week at Beverly Hospital in Montebello and traveling to Washington, D.C. to advocate for reproductive health, the spokesperson added.

Juggling the responsibilities of school while raising her now 2-year-old son, Aidan, has been a life-altering struggle for Gomez, who was on the verge of flunking out of school just a few years ago when she found herself pregnant at 15.

But with the support of Cal-SAFE resources and its partner Generation Her, along with pregnant minor instructor Jennifer Gonzalez and other dedicated MUSD staff, Gomez got her grades up, found her academic passion in health and got into college.

Generation Her is an organization that provides life skills services for participants in the Cal-SAFE program.

Gomez also secured a $60,000 scholarship to college, and the title of 2014 Teen Mom of the Year from Generation Her.

“Shantell is not like any other teen mom I’ve ever met. She is extremely self-driven,” said Gonzalez, now in her third year of working as a pregnant minor instructor for the district. “Shantell is committed to bettering herself and Aidan. She just wants to achieve.”

Cal-SAFE is a state program, implemented in the district at Montebello and Bell Gardens high schools

It offers child care centers, parenting classes, health care instruction, vocational counseling and nutritional information and works to allow and encourage expectant and parenting mothers to continue their schooling.

After giving birth to her son, Gomez battled an unstable home life and struggled in finding the focus and support she needed to raise her son and regain her footing in school, the district spokesperson said.

Gonzalez, with the resources of MUSD, Cal-SAFE and Generation Her, helps students cope with the unanticipated development of becoming a teenage mother, while ensuring that teen moms are still able to earn their high school diploma.

“Shantell rises above,” said Dianna Smiley, founder of Generation Her. “We work with more than 400 students and her passion stands out. When Shantell walks in the room, she commands attention.”

All of this attention comes as a surprise to Gomez, who downplays her achievements and activism, preferring to concentrate on her studies and make sure she doesn’t completely miss out on being a teenager while she still can.

“It makes me happy to inspire so many people,” said Gomez, who was asked by Generation Her to speak at its fifth anniversary benefit fundraiser March 15 in Los Angeles.

After graduation, Gomez hopes to do a little traveling and looks forward to going to Mt. St. Mary’s, where she wants to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.