Teenage mother hopes to break the cycle with higher education

September 30, 2019
Haley Keeling will never forget the first time she held her daughter, Dalia. It was a moment too surreal, too beautiful, too perfect. “I can’t really describe the feeling because even talking about it, I’m just so joyful about it,” Haley said. “It was very emotional. I finally felt like, ‘This is mine, and nobody can take it from me.’” But to truly understand the gravity of the moment, we have to go back to the beginning. Haley Keeling’s childhood was a cycle of chaos. “There wasn’t any stability and her mom would come and go from her life,” Visalia Charter Independent Study Principal Michele Reid said. “Dad wasn’t as present as you would expect someone to be. And so that caused a lot of disruption and dysfunction in her. And to the point where she eventually became homeless.” Despite the volatile upbringing, Haley always understood the importance and value of a good education. “I didn’t have anything else stable in my life except for school,” she said. “I always knew that I could come to school. I always knew that if I did good in school, it would help me be stable in my life.” That’s not to say there weren’t setbacks. With every heartbreak and disappointment, Haley struggled to stay motivated in school. “I always felt like there wasn’t anything for me,” Haley said. “I didn’t have a family. I didn’t have a home. Why should I keep coming to school? I wouldn’t try as hard. I would make sure I was barely passing.” Then on her 16th birthday, Haley learned she was pregnant. She was going to be a teenage mother, just like her mother. But this time would be different. It had to be. “When I was first pregnant, everybody told me, ‘You’re going to drop out,’” Haley said. “‘You’re going to be just like your mom.’ And I didn’t want to be like everybody else. I’ve always wanted to stand out and be different and exceed the stereotypes.” When baby Dalia entered the world on June 27, 2017, Haley was ready to give her daughter the life she never had, even if it meant doing it all by herself. “It’s hard to do what she did,” Visalia Charter Independent Study teacher Shannon Boswell said. “And she didn’t do it with any support. That was the thing. The life lessons that she’s had and the things she’s faced would sideline a lot of adults.” Time after time, Haley has put her daughter’s interests and well-being ahead of her own.  “She’s more concerned about ‘Where am I going to sleep tonight?’” Reid said. “’What food am I going to feed my child? How am I going to get diapers for her?’ That’s what her focus is.” Haley graduated from Visalia Charter Independent Study in June and is working on becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant in order to improve her financial stability. While the workload can be daunting, Haley need only remember who she’s doing it all for. “Sometimes I do break down into the weak mindset of, ‘I can’t keep going to school,’” Haley said. “’It’s too stressful.’ And then I look down at her and I’m like, ‘I don’t want her to live the life that I have lived.’ And I know that the only way for me to get through it is to go through the stress. And the stress isn’t too much to handle.”
Haley Keeling reads to daughter Dalia. Haley is studying to become a Certified Nursing Assistant so that she can support her family.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators