celebrate education - brought to you by the amarillo globe-news

Graduating from school of hard knocks

By Lisa J. Pawlowski
For the Globe-News

Being a full-time father and working a full-time job is tough. Add to that attending high school to earn a diploma, and it's nearly an impossible situation.

This is what Chris Castaneda faced. The 18-year-old had to dig deep to overcome great obstacles the last few years and graduate from Caprock High School.

Chris' life had a rough start. Many illnesses and setbacks prevented him from attending school regularly, which caused him to fall behind. When he was 16, his girlfriend, Courtney, became pregnant and they decided to move in with Chris' father. Chris felt that it wasn't his father's job to support him and his girlfriend, so he went out and got a 40-hour-a-week job.

Chris's daughter, Isabella, was born seven weeks premature. It was an exceedingly tough time for the young family. Both parents were going to school, and Chris was working full time. For two and a half weeks, they spent every spare moment in the neonatal intensive care unit with their new daughter.

"I was so scared and she was so small," Chris said. "She didn't know how to eat. I missed a lot of school because of it. The school actually ended up filing charges on me. I had to go to court and they gave me community service hours."

In August, Chris moved his family out of his father's home and into a place of their own. Just as his senior year at Caprock got under way, Chris needed an emergency appendectomy. It kept him out of school for three weeks.

He fell behind and became discouraged. But Jeff Byrd, an assistant principal at Caprock High School, saw promise in Chris.

Byrd got Chris into North Heights Alternative School so he could complete his credits at his own pace.

"Chris was overwhelmed," Byrd said. "Many times, a kid will wait and hit rock bottom before asking for help. North Heights does an unbelievable job for the kids."

Chris now is on his way to graduating.

"He could have done what so many Hispanic families expect of a young man who gets a girl pregnant to do - quit school and work to provide," said Amanda Perez, Chris' mother.

"He knows in order to have a good future for his daughter, he must be an example and start with graduating high school."

Chris said that while getting an education is important, other things motivate him.

"My daughter is what has kept me going during this time," he said.

"My advice to kids is, don't give up.

"If you put your mind to it, you can do it."

Editor's note: Beating the Odds is a series published in the Amarillo Globe-News from May 10-24 that tells the stories of all kinds of students who are graduating despite challenges they've faced. It is part of Celebrate Education, a program designed to bring awareness to the need of educational attainment in the Texas Panhandle.

calendar of events
  • January 11
    Kickoff of 2009 Program
    Find out what Celebrate Education is all about in this special section in your Sunday paper.
  • March 7
    Regional Spelling Bee, West Texas A&M University
    The annual Regional Spelling Bee will feature the top spellers from the Amarillo area. The top five winners will receive scholarship money ranging from $500 to $5,000 and the winner will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • Spring and Fall
    Amarillo Reads community-wide reading projects.
    Dates and details TBA
  • April
    Amarillo Education Matching Grants Program. Exact date TBA
  • April 10
    What's a Kid to Do Special Section
  • April 12
    What's a Kid to Do at the Amarillo Civic Center
    This event will focus on activities and camps for children to participate in during the summer..
  • May 8-29
    Beating the Odds
    A series of stories published daily in the Amarillo Globe-News during the graduation season that profiles people who have inspiring stories to tell about the degree they are about to receive.
  • May 12
    Ready for the Real World program at Amarillo Civic Center
    AISD juniors get training on what's going to face them in a little more than a year.
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Special Section
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Event at West Texas A&M University
  • Fall
    Discover College Day
    Fifth graders from area schools visit college campuses.
  • October 1
    Great Jobs Special Section
    Focusing on well paying jobs available in the area that people may not know about.
  • November 2
    Career Education Special Section
    Focusing on businesses and others in the community helping young people gain a career vision.
  • November
    Yes You Can Event
    Designed to help people gain information about the next level of education from GED to PhD. Date TBA.
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