Skarleth Delfin-Uscanga overcame tremendous obstacles to achieve her graduating class’ highest academic honor. First, at age six she immigrated to America with her parents and settled in Portal. Though already reading and writing in her native language, she did not speak English. Second, as a sophomore, she became a single mother and had to take on a part-time job to help provide for her infant son. Each of these challenges tested her, but with determination and constant encouragement and support from her parents, she’s a testament to perseverance.
Skarleth is the eldest of Marcos Delfin and Dora Uscanga’s three children. Her double last name comes from the Hispanic tradition of using the father’s and mother’s surnames. Her younger brothers, students at Portal Elementary School, were born after the family immigrated.
She entered kindergarten at Portal Elementary in November 1999, and was placed in Debbie Parrish’s class. “She (Mrs. Parrish) didn’t treat me differently,” Delfin-Uscanga said. “She sent extra work home with me every night, and by January (two months later), she had me speaking English.”
Skarleth’s mother Dora, who spoke no English, knew language was the key to educational opportunities for her daughter. Each night with a Spanish-English dictionary in hand, she helped Skarleth translate lists of sight words sent home by Mrs. Parrish. At the time the language barrier was like a puzzle to Skarleth. “I never liked playing with dolls, but I loved puzzles,” she said.
In the 12 years since, she’s grown up with her classmates. In a graduating class of only 51, she’s developed very close friendships, and they were tested her sophomore year when she became pregnant. One friend, Na’Keshia Caldwell, stood by her every step of the way. “She was the first person to come see me in the hospital,” Delfin-Uscanga said. “She brought me my homework and encouraged me.”
The experience also tested her family. “I know my parents were disappointed in me, but they never stopped supporting and encouraging me to continue my studies,” she said. “My dad told me that whenever I was tired and didn’t feel like studying to remember that it wasn’t just about me anymore; it was my son’s future too.”
Given the circumstances, she could have become a statistic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50 percent of teen pregnancies lead young women to drop out of high school. “I was out of school for four weeks after the baby was born, and I could have chosen to finish my studies at the Transitions Learning Center, but I wanted to stay in school at Portal,” she said.
She kept up her studies while she was on medical leave. Once she returned, she still finished the year with the highest grade point average for her sophomore class. In fact she achieved that honor every year of her high school career. “My parents are very happy,” she said. “They don’t want me to stop. They want me to keep going.”
Delphin-Uscanga has been accepted to Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, where she’d like to pursue pre-law. Because she and her parents are not United States citizens, she is not eligible for the HOPE Scholarship or many other post-secondary scholarship opportunities. AAU has a unique Hispanic and Latino scholarship program for which she has applied. “I hope I can receive this scholarship," she said. "I would be the first member of my family to attend college.”