Every Student Succeeding: For the Love of the Child

ACSA’s Every Student Succeeding Awards program turns 20 this year. In recognition, we begin a 21-part video series, showcasing courageous students who inspire us with their remarkable success. Watch their stories every Monday, leading up to the ACSA Leadership Summit awards presentation Nov. 10 in San Diego.

Imagine a life as a teenage mother raising a child, while at the same time chasing your educational goals. For Cristina Angel Manuel, that is her reality with her 3-year-old daughter Rosa Linda.

“Part of being an adolescent, a normal adolescent is not putting other people’s needs ahead of your own,” said Jenny Harmon, a teacher at Walnutwood High School in Rancho Cordova. “When you have a kid, that’s hard. We often see kids struggling with that. The necessity to set aside regular teenage life or whatever they would have been doing to raise their kids. Cristina has understood that and been able to do that from the very beginning.”

In many ways, her daughter, Rosa Linda, is the reason behind Cristina’s success.

“She brings me a lot of happiness, a lot of motivation,” Cristina said. “I look at her and say, ‘You’re my motivation to keep on going. For me to succeed for us. For me to be an example for you, so as you get older, you can see and keep on going through whatever we go through and stay together.’”

Born and raised in Michoacán, Mexico in the small town of San Lorenzo, Cristina was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a neighbor when she was just 7 years old.

“When that happened, I had no idea it was something bad,” she said. “I had no idea it was a sexual assault. To me it was, ‘this is how you play.’ Sadly, where I’m from, people don’t know as much.”

Cristina’s family later moved to the United States; though it would be years before she disclosed the assault to her parents.

“I felt like something in me was trapped,” she said. “And as soon as I told my parents, I was feeling more relieved. If you’ve ever been sexually assaulted, I would say speak up. Don’t be afraid. The help you get is very very big. Don’t be scared.”

By the age of 15, Cristina was a student at Cordova High School just outside of Sacramento. One night, she ended up in the emergency room with what she thought was food poisoning. Little did Cristina know, she was pregnant.

“We went, and the doctors told me, ‘Oh, you’re having a daughter,’” Cristina said. “It was hard. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, no I’m not having a baby. They just want to get rid of a baby and they’re giving it to me. Or this is not right.’”

Cristina enrolled at Walnutwood High, an alternative independent study school that provided daycare and an adolescent parent program. The school gave Cristina the opportunity to make an easier transition to motherhood, while chasing her educational goals.

And her goals do not stop with a high school diploma. Cristina is pursuing a career as a social worker or psychologist. She says it’s her calling – “anything that has do with helping others to overcome a difficult situation,” she said.

“To provide lots of help for others, and to help others deal with the experience I’ve had," Cristina said, “and to be a part of their growth – I really just want to do that. I really believe that’s what I have to do in life.”

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