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Not alone: Senior year and mother of two

By Bethany Mollenkof

Janet Ibarra’s tiny frame gives no indication of the weight she has carried. When she slips into her black satin prom dress and turns to reach for the zipper, her glasses slip down her nose.

With her mother’s help, the dress is secured and soon she’s settled on the couch, humming softly.

Just as soon as she sits down, chicken nuggets in one hand, her phone in the other, there’s a loud scream and a thud on the porch.

At once, Janet is off the couch and has swung the tiny, crying baby into her arms, showering her with kisses.



When I first spotted Janet across the room, she was surrounded by dozens of teenage girls full of the kind of electric energy that comes as you search for the perfect prom dress.

I was there to shoot Operation School Bell, an organization that was providing free prom dresses to low-income students.

All around me, girls fluffed brightly colored taffetas and preened in gowns dripping with rhinestones.

But Janet chose a simple, black dress.

I took a few photographs and started talking to her. I remember how small and fragile she looked and the way her glasses constantly slipped down her nose as she spoke. It didn’t take long for her initial meekness to melt away, and she began to tell me about her life.

She was a senior in high school, looking forward to prom and graduation. Classes were a challenge, but she was glad she was almost finished. She seemed like a pretty typical 18-year-old — until she pulled out her phone and showed me photos of her two daughters.

I was stunned that this petite, baby-faced girl could have two children. I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand what life was like for her, trying to survive high school as a mother.

She was gracious enough to allow me to document her final months of high school, and I saw firsthand the resolve and the love that sustained her.


Since completing high school in 2013, Janet has assumed full-time care of her daughters. She hopes to attend college in the future.



  1. January 27, 2014, 2:58 pm

    Fantastic coverage. Love then class that this upheld.

    Another victory for ethical journalism.

    By: elroiphotography
  2. January 27, 2014, 5:05 pm

    I know being a young mother is really tough, but combining TWO kids and school and everything that comes with it is just a rough process that not many end up succeding, so knowing this beautiful young and overall strong woman making it through high school and other personal issues really inspires me to keep going, that one day it’s all going to get better. So with all that said I’d like to say, God bless you Janet, continue to walk strong, your a great mother and Stay Strong babygirl

    By: Sandra Velazquez
  3. January 27, 2014, 9:50 pm

    My sister has been through alot, and seeing her walk across stage brought tears of joy to my eyes. One kid is hard abu two is different story. With the help of my mother, family and friends support i knew she would finish her school year. I am happy for her and what she has done in her life. I want her to never forget that feeling in reminder that her two kids will be the biggest support in her life, aside from family and friends. Im pround of you sister let this video remind what you can in life. Now i cant wait to see you walk the stage graduating college love you keep up the good work.

    By: fernando ibarra
  4. January 28, 2014, 11:22 am

    Hi Bethany,

    I'm a a program specialist in the OC area that does outreach for teen moms at local high schools and this is a situation that I am very familliar with. Is there any way that you can let Janet know that there is various assistance available at local community colleges for single parent mothers. In particular there is a program called CARE that is state wide in the Californai community college system and it sounds like she would possibly be a perfect candidate. They help with achieving your academic goals and they are a support system that helps with books, and educational cost related expenses. If you can please forward her the information I would greatly appreciate it! I would love to see her succeed in college! And she shoud start now!!!!!!!!!!
    Lizzete Garcia

  5. January 28, 2014, 3:02 pm

    Wow! Janet Ibarra was my student for her 9th grade year. To see this video and hear her express herself is truly touching. Her story is legendary. Good luck Janet I believe in you. Your girls have an amazing mother.

    By: Johanna Lopez

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