She tried to play it normal. She went to basketball practice and waited for her mom to pick her up. Her mom was taking longer than usual.
Then, her mom has arrived. She saw her face — blotchy, swollen eyes, tear streaks.
“Is it true?” her mother asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “It’s true.”
Her secret was out: She was pregnant at 16.
Kassandra Carrillo was a junior at McFarland High School when she discovered she was pregnant. She had her daughter, Sophia, in August 2011 at the beginning of her senior year.
Kassandra was home-schooled that fall semester to stay on track. Elizabeth Bowman, her college-guidance teacher, visited her two to three times a week with work for her to complete.
Kassandra did not let her pregnancy deter her from being involved in school. She was ASB vice president her senior year, holding a leadership position despite constant critiques. Kassandra returned to MHS for the spring semester of her senior year and graduated with the rest of her class in 2012.
Her unexpected teen pregnancy didn’t stop her from graduating from high school. However, it has turned her once-planned four-year college journey into six years and counting.
It’s Kassandra’s first semester at California State University, Bakersfield. She’s majoring in criminal justice and aspires to be a juvenile probation officer. She’s also working 40 hours a week at McDonald’s. She’s a working college student, but her first priority is being a mom.
Sandra Carrillo, Kassandra’s mom, stops taking classes at Bakersfield College so her daughter can continue her education. She takes care of her granddaughter while her daughter works or attends classes.
“It was very hectic,” said Kassandra. “I didn’t have a car, so my mom had to take me to all my classes.”
The drive from McFarland to CSUB is 27 miles each way.
She fails her courses and has to transfer out to community college.
Kassandra transfers to BC’s Delano campus so she doesn’t have to commute to Bakersfield. The Delano campus is 6 miles away, much closer to home.
She’s still working 40 hours a week at McDonald’s, serving burgers and attending customers, to pay the bills. She continues at BC through fall 2013, taking general education and criminal justice courses.
Kassandra moves in with her boyfriend, Danny Gamboa, who is Sophia’s father, in McFarland. It is her first time being on her own.
“It was such a different way of life,” said Kassandra.
She thought moving in with her boyfriend, would be best for Sophia. But Kassandra wasn’t ready.
She’s taking five classes this semester and fails all of them. It’s her second time failing an entire semester.
“I remember crying to my mom and telling her I wish I had waited to move out,” said Kassandra.
Kassandra turns to her mother for support and moves back home, hoping she can find some stability. Danny understands, and gives her time to adjust.
Kassandra returns to BC, but this time takes it easier.
“I started pacing myself,” she said. “Instead of taking five classes like before, I took two or three.”
She adjusts her schedule and makes lists of what she has to do every day. She sorts out her assignments, her work schedule, Sophia’s schedule and anything in between. Feeling like her schedule is under control, Kassandra again moves in with her boyfriend in McFarland, but this time she feels more prepared. She continues at BC through spring 2016.
Kassandra returns to CSUB after four years away. This time she has her own car. She is a sales representative at Delano Chevrolet, where she contacts people to purchase cars, sets appointments for services and is required to meet a quota every month. She is working 40 hours a week. Sophia, 5, is now in kindergarten.
She fails two courses and passes two, but her GPA does not meet academic satisfaction.
She gets academically disqualified for spring 2017.
“I felt really ashamed of myself because I felt I was not putting enough effort into my education,” said Kassandra. “I kept putting work before school because I was afraid of not having enough for my daughter.”
She takes spring 2017 off. She knows education needs to be her priority.
Kassandra petitions to return to CSUB and is accepted. She reduces her work hours to 30 hours a week, giving her more time for homework. Danny pitches in more with Sophia. He feeds and bathes her, helps her complete her homework and gives her the attention she needs.
Kassandra works 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, then attends class at CSUB from 2 to 10 p.m. On the days she does not attend school, including weekends, she works 1 to 8 p.m. Most days she gets home to her sleeping daughter. She alternates weekends with her co-worker so she can spend time with her family.
Kassandra is relieved knowing Sophia’s father is watching over her.
Six years ago, Kassandra started her academic journey at CSUB and she’s still going at it.
Stephanie Alvarado, Kassandra’s childhood friend and Sophia’s godmother said, “She’s come a long way juggling school, work and being a mom.”
“She’s Sophia’s role model. Sophia tries so hard in school and she gets it from her mom,” said Alvarado.
Sophia, 7, is now in second grade. She currently has a 4.0 GPA. She has been receiving awards in language arts and math since kindergarten.
Kassandra has to remind herself to focus on her own path — many people she graduated with have already started their careers. She used to compare herself to others, but she learns not to.
Her friends and family support her and that’s what matters.
Lorena Garcia, Kassandra’s best friend, said, “She’s the epitome of a woman who can have a daughter at an early age, continue to seek education and lift herself up, which is not easy at all.”
Thought she felt discouraged at times on her long academic journey, Kassandra is not alone in taking over four years to get her degree.
In 2014, 42 percent of first-time freshmen graduated within six years from CSUB.
It may take her longer, but she’s getting there. Last spring, she received her associate degree in criminal justice from BC. It’s happening — slowly, but it’s happening.
“Don’t give up,” said Kassandra.
Kassandra encourages college moms to use all the resources they can on their journey. Take a cycling class, take a yoga class, do Zumba, whatever it takes to relieve that stress. Kassandra is taking a cycling class this semester at the Student Recreation Center. She burns extra calories and she clears her mind.
On a recent Wednesday night, Kassandra’s last class at 8:30 p.m. gets canceled. She can hardly wait to go home and see Sophia run to her at the door.