Mother and Daughter Graduate
from High School
"I can't tell my daughter to go to school, be good, do all of her class work...what example does she have, so I went to Ballou STAY." These are the words of Yolanda Atkins (right), a mother and wife in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood who recently graduated from high school in the same month as her eldest daughter, Lauryn (left), who graduated from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School. In a phone interview with Southwest Voice, Yolanda described what it meant for her to reach that major educational milestone after nearly twenty years and putting off her own education to take care of her family.
"I was a foster child from age two. I was in foster homes and group homes. I really didn't have the support that a teenage woman should have, so I basically raised myself. People don't really give you the type of guidance that you need. Stay in school. Make sure that you're good. Don't run the streets." At age 16, Yolanda found out that she was pregnant. Disparaged by the lack of support that she was getting at her group home ("I had no help"), she eventually landed at an organization to support young pregnant mothers transition to full independence. "That was the first place that felt like home". Due to circumstances beyond her control, Yolanda made a choice to emancipate herself from the foster care system. "I didn't go back to school because I was at home with her, taking care of her (and) making sure she's ok. I have to make sure that I love this child, respect this child. I am responsible for a whole human being and no one was ever responsible for me. I didn't get taught to be a mom...I never went back to school. I had five kids and always had really good jobs."
"No one even knew that I didn't graduate. If I didn't tell you, you wouldn't know....I went to Ballou STAY two years ago." Yolanda had started at Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy because she had made a promise to herself and her daughter to graduate before Lauryn's graduation. Yolanda was well on her way, but a major car accident the following year on her birthday halted her studies. With encouragement from her daughter ("Mom, we agreed on next year"), her wife, and a surreptitious rendezvous with Ms. Judy Lyons, a Ballou STAY administrator, at a laundromat ("Ms. Bullock (Ms. Atkins' previous last name), your work was 80% done. Come on back."), Yolanda did return. Although balancing school and family duties was difficult at times, Yolanda graduated in June 2020. "My youngest two say, 'You're so old, you're still in high school?' The younger ones don't really understand. My oldest daughter is ecstatic about it. She went through the journey with me."
Yolanda is now a college student at Strayer University. She also received two Southwest Community Honors - First Generation High School Graduate and Commitment to Overcoming Adversity. Lauryn recently graduated from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School with honors and a 3.5 GPA. The family resides in Greenleaf Gardens.