CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "In some ways I wish I would have stayed in school," said high school dropout Katie Vance.
"I couldn't keep my head above water. I became pregnant at the age of 15. Getting up and going to school just seemed so impossible. I was always the center of the drama that was going on. Once, when I was eight months pregnant, a guy purposely kicked my locker door into my stomach."
According to the West Virginia Board of Education Dropout Prevention program's data from 2008-2009, 124,388 students were enrolled in grades 7-12, and 3,527 students dropped out, giving West Virginia a 2.8 percent dropout rate.
Besides the WVBOE's program, there are many other programs to prevent dropping out, such as the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and Upward Bound. You can find a list online at www.dropoutprevention.org.
"Once my baby was born, I didn't really have much help with her," Katie said. "My parents were divorced, and my dad was always working. I tried a day care center, but there were issues with them. The father of the baby was still here, but he also worked. I just felt hopeless. I decided I was going to drop out and get my GED, which I did.
"This time five years ago, I had planned on being a forensic scientist, but that isn't a very good job here in West Virginia. I changed my plans to cosmetology.
"I was 17 years old when I dropped out. My dad didn't want me to, but I had already gotten married, so the choice was up to me. After a few weeks of being married, I signed the dropout papers. I immediately enrolled in my GED classes. I forced myself to get out of bed and at least get some kind of education for myself and my child.
"It seems like everyone was down my throat trying to get me to stay in school. None of them have ever been in my shoes. They had never tried to take care of a newborn baby while also trying to gain an education. My principal lectured me twice trying to get me to stay, but I felt in my heart that I was doing what I needed to do for my baby.
"It's not easy growing up at such a young age, but I knew that I had to take on responsibility."
Currently, Katie and her husband both have jobs and take care of themselves. They do not live with their parents.
"If I could go back to kindergarten and start completely over, I would have gotten some help with the baby so I could have finished school, but other than that, I wouldn't change anything. I know that God has a plan for me.
"I do not recommend dropping out of school; however, I refuse to condemn the people that do. Most people look at dropouts as lazy, but some of us actually have a reason for doing it.
"You can still make something of yourself even if you are a dropout. If you stay in school, that is wonderful and you will go far in life, but to those that drop out, please don't give up hope just because someone says you can't make something of your life because you dropped out of school.
"My parents didn't want me to drop out, but they have supported me the whole way, and I thank them for that. I don't have many friends left because after I became pregnant; I had to grow up and they didn't. I'm mostly friends with other teen moms that have dropped out and all of my old friends understood my situation."In the future, Katie plans to create a program that will help teen moms stay in school. Her advice to those who are thinking of dropping out is to think it through clearly. Make sure it's the right decision for you and a decision that you won't regret later on in life. Whatever your decision is, don't let anyone put you down.