Graduating despite the odds

When the fourth period bell rang on a recent school day, Magali Ladisiao — known as Maggie by most — didn't grab lunch with friends in the quad or gossip in the halls between classes.

Instead, the 17-year-old Laguna Beach High School student hurried home to the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her family in Club Laguna to take care of her 1-year-old daughter Arianna.

On Thursday, despite raising a baby and holding down two jobs, Ladisiao participated in a momentous teenage rite of passage — graduation.

"I made bad decisions. I wasn't a bad kid," she said. "Everything happens for a reason. I couldn't just give up."

In September 2010, Maggie found out she was pregnant after a friend suggested Maggie come with her to the community clinic to get birth control pills. While at the clinic, they asked to run a pregnancy test. It came back positive, even though two at-home pregnancy tests had come back negative.

At first she kept the pregnancy a secret, only telling her boyfriend, the father of the baby. They've since broken up but he remains active in Arianna's life and helps support her financially. He accompanied her to doctor visits and ultrasounds.

During Thanksgiving, when her mother remarked on her stomach, Maggie said she was bloated and laughed it off. She was three months along.

A month later, at the behest of her then-boyfriend, she told her family the truth.

The first thing her father said when she told him the news was "what about school?"

Her mother, a maid at the Holiday Inn, and father, a cook at Papa's Tacos, always ingrained in her the importance of education. She didn't want to disappoint them.

"They always worked hard to give us everything," she said. "I think they thought they failed."

Her 12-year-old brother, Pablo, said he was worried she wouldn't finish school and even jokingly told her she wouldn't walk at graduation.

"As you grow up, you're going to have to choose what you'll do in life," Pablo said, remarking on what he's learned as he's watched his sister during the past year.

It's been far from an easy road.

Right now, Maggie works up to 30 hours a week at two jobs, one at Heavenly Couture downtown and the other at Coldstone Creamery in Irvine.

Despite Laguna Beach High School staff helping her tremendously, she said she wasn't always comfortable at school after the news of her pregnancy. She went from being the girl who won "Most Improved Player" in soccer to the girl who received stares in the halls and could hear people calling her "the pregnant girl."

During her pregnancy, she worked at a shoe store in Laguna Hills after school, where she climbed ladders to get products. She was eight months pregnant and earning minimum wage. Eventually, her doctor recommended she stop and advised bed rest after pre-labor contractions.

Sleep was an issue as well. During her third trimester she often wouldn't fall asleep until 4 a.m., only to have to wake up at 6 a.m. for school.

Maggie told her counselor David Reska she wanted to do as much of her education at the high school as possible. At the end of her junior year she completed the last six weeks and summer education at Access, a continuation program. She returned her senior year.

Reska said there were some bumps along the way. Reska, who had a child during his last year of college, was able to identify with Maggie. He watched her try to juggle a full plate, much of it on her own.

"We talked early on in the year that it was important to get her diploma and she never wavered in that," Reska said. "I was getting nervous there for a while but she was able to pull it off. She's persistent."

Maggie didn't let all teen traditions pass her by — like prom.

Maggie did the ceremonious Laguna Beach prom activities — photos at the Montage Resort, dinner at BJ's Restaurant downtown and then off to the dance in Huntington Beach.

However, unlike her schoolmates who danced the night away relatively carefree, Maggie was checking her phone for texts from her brother, who was updating her on 11-month-old Arianna.

Her experience, she said, has made her consider her future.

While at the continuation school, she took a child development class and a health careers class, both of which interested her.

However, it wasn't until she became close with her public health nurse, Lisa, that she realized she wanted to become one also.

Lisa, from Nurse Family Partnership, a nonprofit that helps low-income first-time mothers, checks on Arianna every two weeks to make sure the baby is developing on track.

She told Lisa of her interest in possibly becoming a medical assistant and Lisa urged her to consider nursing.

"When she was in high school she wasn't the best student, but in college she tried harder and it paid off," Maggie said.

As of now, Maggie will register for classes at Saddleback this summer. She said she plans to cut back on her work hours so she can focus on school work. She wants to transfer to Cal State Long Beach in two years.

"I decided I'm just going to go all the way," she said. "If Arianna slacks off in school when she's older, I can tell her I did it with a baby and two jobs. There's no reason why she can't do it."

Twitter: @joannaclay

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