Determination, scholarship put teen single mother back on road to success

Making the most of second chances

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

Sometimes bad choices can lead to happy endings.

And though she says she wouldn't recommend bad choices, Darcy Gourley says she has learned a lot from hers -- and found a good life for herself along the way.

At first glance, there is nothing extraordinary about the 19-year-old Kenai resident. Like many of her contemporaries, she graduated from high school in May and just completed her first semester at Kenai Peninsula College. What sets her apart is the fact that she is a single mother.

"My first two years of high school I made very poor choices," she said. "I could have done well, but chose not to. I chose to follow the other path."

That "other" path led her to trouble both in and out of the classroom and culminated in her pregnancy and subsequent dropping out as a junior at Kenai Central High School in the spring of 1999.

However, just when her life's deck appeared most stacked against her, Gourley found an ace in the hole.

Working at her mother's dog-grooming shop, she met Cindy Derning, who ran the school district's Young Parents Program. Derning helped the then 17-year-old keep up with her studies and convinced Gourley to return to school the following fall, this time at Kenai Alternative High School, which is geared toward providing students a second chance.

"I was young and pregnant, and not many people look highly on young pregnant girls. But she didn't (judge me)," Gourley said. "She wouldn't let me give up. Even when I wanted to."


"My first two years of high school I made very poor choices," she said. "I could have done well, but chose not to. I chose to follow the other path."

Photo by Mark Kelsey

At the alternative school, Gourley juggled the needs of her infant daughter, Skylynne, with the demands of the classroom. With Derning's support, she blossomed. The young mother raised her grades to As and Bs, graduated on time and was awarded a full four-year scholarship to any University of Alaska branch.

"I was so happy, because without that scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to go to college," she said. "And that's something I always wanted to do."

Gourley credited Derning's guidance and coaching for helping her turn her life around.

"She does wonderful work," Gourley said. "She's an amazing woman. She made such a difference."

Derning deflects the credit back to Gourley.

"There was a desire within Darcy to make a difference for her and her daughter," said Derning, who last summer left the school district after 10 years. "She didn't want to end up a statistic -- another young mother living in poverty. She's a great girl. She has the ability and the drive to do well."

Derning said other young mothers could learn a lot from Gourley's example.

"It wasn't easy for Darcy, but she was determined," Derning said. "Often young parents are seen as not being able to accomplish much or given credit for doing well. But they can. And they can be good parents at the same time."

Being a good parent is a high priority for Gourley, who managed a B average as a full-time student during the fall semester. Although she lives with her mother and gets plenty of help from friends and family, she said the demands of her dual roles as mother and student are often difficult. The rewards, however, are worth it.

"You can't just have a child and expect to raise it without an education," she said. "It's been incredibly hard, but it's also been incredible. I'm very happy with the way things are going."

Now that classes have recessed until January, Gourley said she looks forward to spending Christmas with her daughter, now 17 months old.

She'll also make time to help serve a community Christmas dinner at Bubba's in Nikiski on Monday.

"It's important to help people who need the help," she said. "I guess I owe it. I've had so much help in the last two years that I feel like I should return the favor and help others in need.

"Without the help of my friends and family and Cindy Derning and the staff of the alternative high school -- and the scholarship -- I wouldn't be where I am today."

On the threshold of a new year, Gourley can look back at the hurdles she's overcome and ahead to a future that looks bright. She plans to finish school and start a career as a nurse or medical technician. She also said she hopes her life will serve as an example to her daughter -- and other teen girls.

"I would definitely advise against (doing what I did)," she said. "But if it happens, don't let it get in the way of your dreams. You have to work three times as hard, but it'll make it better in the end.

"I'm living proof."

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