Crystal Scholl was 17, pregnant and determined when she started at AIM High School. Once her daughter was born, the exhausting demands of motherhood, studies and a job didn’t keep her from graduating. In 2000, when she wore her cap and gown, baby Dakota was in her arms.
Dakota Mowry, now 18, spent time as an infant in the child-care center at AIM, the Snohomish district’s alternative high school. Fast-forward 17 years from the day Scholl graduated. The pictures look similar — but not the same.
In a white cap and gown like her mom wore, Mowry graduated from AIM on June 8. Unlike her mother, she did it without the stresses of being a teen parent.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Scholl, 36, said of her daughter, a look-alike who could be mistaken for her sister.
Thom Engel, an English and social studies teacher at AIM, taught both of them.
“Dakota is a really nice girl,” Engel said. “I was her mother’s teacher, too. Her mother was very driven to finish school. She had a plan, had her baby, and started bringing her baby to school. Then her daughter came here, and she worked hard.”
On a sunny afternoon, mother and daughter sat outside the family’s Snohomish home. Mowry, an animal lover, snuggled with an orange kitty named Oliver, and with a little dog called Sparky.
“I couldn’t imagine having to go to school, work and take care of a kid of my own,” the teen said Wednesday. “A dog and cat are enough for me.”
Scholl has two younger children, and during the day takes care of a boy with special needs and his brother. Mowry lives in Lynnwood with a cousin, and works as a kennel assistant at Canyon Park Veterinary Hospital in Bothell. The teen received an Everett Community College scholarship for a year’s tuition, and plans to combine studies at EvCC with an online veterinary technician program.
Both women started at Snohomish High School, but took different paths to AIM. Scholl was a senior at Snohomish High when she became pregnant. She recalls teachers suggesting that she wouldn’t make it to graduation at the traditional high school.
“AIM was amazing,” said Scholl, who lived with her sister and Dakota’s father, Charles Mowry, as a new mom. She worked in a hospital cafeteria at the time. “I wouldn’t have graduated if it weren’t for AIM,” she said.
Mowry, who attended Dutch Hill Elementary and Centennial Middle School, went to Snohomish High the first semester of her freshman year. She wasn’t comfortable on the large campus, and considered an online education before deciding on AIM.
“She just wanted to get her work done,” said Scholl, whose daughter had jobs at McDonald’s and a Papa Murphy’s pizza shop while in school.
The alternative school, now at the Snohomish district’s Parkway Campus on 13th Street, was in a different place when Scholl started there in October 1998. The child-care center was off-site. Today, there’s room for three children at a time in the day care. Student-parents can leave children there for mornings or afternoons.
June Shirey, AIM principal and the district’s director of alternative programs, said Mowry wasn’t the first student at the school who had once been in the child care. “We had a young man; he has now left to get his GED. He was our second baby,” Shirey said.
Like Engel, Shirey was at AIM when Dakota’s mother was there. “Teen moms become the best students in the school,” Shirey said. “They see the importance of their education, and are so appreciative of the school district for providing this opportunity.”
Shirey counsels teen parents not to take on too much trying to finish school faster. “I tell them it doesn’t matter when you graduate, you just need to graduate,” she said. At AIM, they find a supportive, nonjudgmental environment. “These moms need flexibility. When kids get sick, they stay home,” she said.
Mother and daughter appreciate the relationships AIM teachers establish with families. Months after Scholl graduated, her brother died in a motorcycle accident. She received a card and phone calls from AIM’s staff.
Shirey was touched at graduation when Mowry spoke about her mom. “She thanked her mother and said, ‘You’re my best friend,’ ” the principal said.
Scholl remembers sleepless nights, long days and some tears as a young mom. “I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her,” she said. “Eighteen years, it went way too fast.”
It was looking years into the future that pushed her to get a diploma. “If I didn’t graduate, what was I going to tell my daughter if she wanted to drop out?” Scholl said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.