Dropping Out...and Dropping Back In Again : JASMINE RODRIGUEZ : 'Why Throw It All Away?'

Jasmine Rodriguez dropped out of school and had a baby, but she did not let that destroy her future.

"A lot of my friends who have babies think that the doors close," she says. "But they don't."

Rodriguez, whose delicate face matches her first name, left Marshall High School four years ago at 16. She has since been in and out of an alternative education program, leaving because of boredom, only to face more boredom at home. Now she just has to make up one test, and then she will receive her diploma.

After her first two years in high school, Rodriguez started to run with Angeleno Heights, a female gang, and spent little time in class. "We would go to homeroom, sign in, and then leave for the day," she recalls.

She would go to the park or to a friend's house to get high or "scam" (make out) with a guy. Her parents, who are divorced, had no idea.

"If I was slick enough, I could get the report card before she saw it," says Rodriguez, who lives with her mom in Silver Lake. "Sometimes the school would call home, and I would pretend to be my mother and say, 'My daughter was sick.' Then I would forge notes from her."

The deception ended when a truant officer crashed one of Angeleno Heights' weekday parties and hauled Rodriguez into school. Her mother, Antonia, was confronted with a stack of forged excuses.

Finally, faced with repeating the 11th grade, Rodriguez quit altogether, then left home. But the freedom of the streets, and the Angeleno Heights, soon got old.

"They were getting me nowhere," Rodriguez says. "Friends like that aren't going to get you money, or an education, or college."

After she returned home in the fall of 1992, her mother enrolled Rodriguez in three classes at the Metropolitan Skills Center near Lafayette Park. Intended for adults, the classes did not offer the supervision Rodriguez needed, and she went back to hanging out with her friends all day.

This time her mother got her into an Alternative Education and Work Center, a dropout recovery program run by the Los Angeles Unified School District. There, Rodriguez says, she finally found what she needed: "The staff here sits with you and explains things, and they don't get up until you understand."

Still, she struggled to stay in the program until dropping out in October, 1993, to have her son, Caesar. She went back the following January while her mother cared for the baby, but again her attendance was scattershot. "Boredom," she explains.

Finally, realizing that she was only a few credits short of a diploma, Rodriguez got serious. "Why throw it all away?" she asked herself. Now she hopes to attend college and become a probation officer or youth counselor.

"Most of my friends dropped out and had kids and never graduated," she says. "But I didn't want people to look at me and say, 'All girls who get pregnant end up nobody--no career, nothing.' If you want to do something, you do it."

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