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Graduating from school of hard knocksBy 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.
Copyright 2008 Amarillo Globe-News :: Amarillo.com