FRESNO -- Patricia Pérez still recalls being judged and criticized for becoming pregnant as a 13-year-old student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Madera.
Her classmates' painful comments proved motivational.
"It hurt me, but those words made me stronger, and made me believe that whatever they are saying and whatever they are thinking, I'm going to do the opposite," said Pérez, now 18 and a graduate of Easton Arcola High School.
And she did.
Last Thursday afternoon, Pérez was one of five teen moms to earn a Great Valley South Morgan Scholarship from Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. The recipients were all high school graduates pursuing higher education, and participants in Planned Parenthood's Teen Success program, a weekly support group for teen moms.
The $1,000 award will help Pérez -- who is undocumented and doesn't qualify for financial aid -- pay for her nursing classes at Madera Community College Center.
"They don't see me now," Pérez said of her former classmates. "I'm earning scholarships, I'm in college, and I'm happy because I proved them wrong."
Becoming moms when they were still young girls was just one of the many challenges Pérez and the other scholarship winners have faced. Teen moms often struggle to stay in school, and can have unsteady housing situations, and limited finances and transportation.
But despite these odds, the Morgan Scholarship winners have succeeded, said Desiree Herrera, a manager of education services at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, and a former teen mom.
What stands out about these scholarship winners, "is the amount of struggles they go through to get where they are right now," said Herrera, who was the guest speaker at the awards ceremony, held at the Fresno County Office of Education. "For them to be able to accomplish as much as they have, with what they have, is just an amazing thing."
For the scholarship winners, continuing their education has been tough -- but critical.
After her daughter Ashley was born, Pérez transferred to Pioneer Technical Center, and later to Ripperdan High School. Her mother took care of Ashley during the school day but, "once I stepped in that door, I had a responsibility and I had to take care of my daughter and do homework," Pérez said.
"She is my motivation in everything -- I don't know where I would be without her," Pérez said of Ashley.
When she became pregnant at 17, scholarship winner Lyzzett Navarro had to shift her college plans. Instead of studying outside of her hometown of Bakersfield, as she had hoped to do, Navarro has balanced classes at Bakerfield College with her daughter Violet Skye's child care.
As a teen mom, "you have to think about life on a completely different level," said Navarro, now 20 and a second-time recipient of the scholarship. "You have to really, truly understand and realize that you are living for two people, and you are completely responsible for them."
Despite the extra stress, Navarro said it is crucial for teen moms to pursue higher education.
Just tough it out," said Navarro, who is double-majoring in agriculture business and forestry at Bakersfield College, and intends to study environmental resource management at California State University, Bakersfield. "Even if you are not a school person, school is really a key to giving your child and yourself a good life."
Scholarship recipient Estella Salgado, of Madera, agreed. Salgado, who was 16 when her son Bryant was born, is studying nursing at Fresno City College, instead of joining her parents in the region's agricultural fields.
She intends to spend the $1,000 scholarship on a computer, books, and gas money.
"Stay in school, no matter what," Salgado said.