Cre’Ana Bell strode confidently across the stage in sparkly, silver stilettos to accept her high school diploma from Polly Fox Academy.
The short, celebratory walk was really a victory lap — a culmination of the last few years that brought joy with the birth of her son Cedyn, now 2, and sudden loss after her sister’s murder.
Ms. Bell, 21, was among 18 graduates from Polly Fox Academy, a public charter school begun in 2003 for pregnant and parenting girls ages 13 to 22 in seventh through 12th grades.
“I’m trying not to cry,” she said Tuesday, as she slipped on a white graduation gown. “I’m shaking.”
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She turned to a fellow classmate, one of several in a room buzzing with the pre-ceremony bustle of picture taking, makeup checking, and tassel adjusting.
“We did it,” Ms. Bell said.
Whenever a doubt crept up, her mother, Jacqueline Moore, would reassure her daughter, now a mother herself. Ms. Bell would receive that diploma, propelled in part by her son. She wanted to do it for him.
“In the beginning she said, ‘Mom, I don’t think I’m going to make it,’ and I just kept telling her, ‘Yes, you can. Believe in yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself nobody else will,’” her mother said.
Ms. Bell was attending another charter school when she found out she was pregnant. She was sick throughout her pregnancy and took online courses to keep up with school.
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Her son was about a year old when she enrolled at Polly Fox.
“Everyone is like sisters here, and the teachers actually take the time to help you,” said Ms. Bell, who plans to enroll this fall at Owens Community College.
In November, 2012, her half-sister CreJonnia Bell, 19, was killed by an estranged boyfriend, later sentenced to life in prison. After the murder, Ms. Bell took a couple weeks off from Polly Fox; it was the low point of the last few years.
On one of her final days in high school, Ms. Bell walked across the street to the Catholic Club child care center where she and many other Polly Fox moms enroll their children.
The Jefferson Avenue academy helps students fill out forms for government assistance to pay for child care, and it offers prenatal and parenting classes teaching breastfeeding, discipline techniques, and CPR for adults and infants.
The proximity of the child care center to the school was a chief reason Ms. Bell chose Polly Fox.
She opened a baby gate and picked up her still-sleepy son. They held hands as they crossed the street. After buckling him in, she drove off — his photograph taped to a lower corner of the Dodge Neon’s windshield.
Polly Fox creates a flexible environment for pregnant girls and young mothers to finish high school, said development director Joan Durgin. It has about 105 students currently, a number that fluctuates throughout the school year that’s down from a peak of 250 students. It’s looking to boost enrollment amid competition from many other charter schools, Mrs. Durgin said.
After graduation, Ms. Bell’s family surrounded her; she held her son’s hand. She’d already taken off the stilettos, replaced with a pair of comfortable flip-flops. The high heels went in the car’s trunk, where they landed on top of a folded baby stroller.
“She did it,” her mother said.