Sara Miranda sits with daughter Katalina Miranda Hernandez outside of the Roberts Teen Parent Program on Friday, May 28, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

When Sara Miranda’s high school classes moved online last spring because of Covid, she didn’t participate.

Then a junior, Miranda said she became overwhelmed by the combination of school, living through a pandemic and caring for her daughter, Catalina, then 2.

Though she had once before caught up with her studies, Miranda said this time she slid into anxiety and figured she just wouldn’t graduate.

“I didn't see the spark of graduating, I guess. I didn't. It wasn't a big deal for me,” she said.

But over the past nine weeks, Miranda turned to the task of making up for missed lessons and finished her graduation credits - all while working 20 hours per week as a home caregiver.

Miranda, 18, said her teachers encouraged her to finish her studies. She co-parents Catalina with the girl's father, and said his mother has also been a source of support.

“She told me that it's special that I'm a teen parent and that I'm graduating,” Miranda said.

Miranda has been a student in Salem-Keizer’s teen parent program since the final months of her freshman year of high school.

She started high school at North Salem while pregnant and went into labor the day after winter break.

“When I first got pregnant, I sort of looked down on myself. I wasn't sure what people would expect from me, what I should do. But I kind of just started telling myself, ‘Who cares what other people think? It's just about you, like, look forward.’ And that helped me overcome that,” she said.

Weeks later, newborn in tow, Miranda returned to her classes.

“I went back to school with Catalina and they let me do my finals. I did my finals in a separate classroom with her. And I passed all of them,” Miranda said.

Then, she transferred to the teen parent program. It’s part of the district’s Roberts High School, housed on the Chemeketa Community College campus with a free childcare program so parents can focus on their classwork while still tending their kids during breaks.

While taking a human anatomy class, Miranda visited Willamette University and watched the dissection of a cadaver. She said the experience made her want to pursue a medical career.

Kathy Schliesmayer, who’s taught in the teen parent program for over a decade, said she stayed in touch with Miranda during the Covid shutdown and into the fall as classes moved online.

Schliesmayer didn’t try to get Miranda to come back to classes. Instead, she checked in over text.

“It didn’t matter to me if she came to school or not right then. She had a lot of things going on and it was just too much for her to figure out how to do school,” Schliesmayer said. “I would just stay in contact with her all the time and we would just talk about life.”

Miranda said other educators touched base too, delivering diapers and other supplies for Catalina.

As teaching returned to the classroom this spring, Schiliesmayer persuaded Miranda to return for the final quarter of her senior year.

She used her impending retirement as an incentive, telling Miranda she wanted to see her graduate before ending her teaching career.

“Sara is very resilient. She’s super smart. But she just got caught up in the overwhelming nonsense of Covid,” Schiliesmayer said. “It was easy for her when she came back. She surprised herself with what she could accomplish.”

Miranda said she was apprehensive about returning because she worried her teachers would be disappointed in her. But she tried not to let such thoughts stop her, she said.

“Around April, where it kind of hit me like, I have to actually get up and do my work, or I'm not going to graduate. And I'm not going to go to college and become a medical assistant. And it's kind of a big deal for me to go to college and have a career because my mom is an immigrant,” she said.

Her teachers welcomed her back enthusiastically.

“We believe in you every minute of the day, every every minute. Since I've met you I knew that something big’s gonna happen here,” teacher Jenny Gelbrich told Miranda recently.

A few extra spring classes put her back on track to graduate. Miranda said she caught up while working 20 hours per week as a caregiver, a job she enjoys because it allows her to help people and support her daughter.

Miranda plans to attend Chemeketa Community College to study medical assisting. She hopes to someday become a trauma nurse.

Miranda said she’s especially excited for her graduation ceremony because Catalina, now 3, will see her in a cap and gown.

“I didn't think I could do it. I thought I was way behind. I thought it was too much work, but I did it anyways,” Miranda said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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