Romelia Belteton was a junior at Hayfield High School in Alexandria when she learned she was pregnant. It took three months before she got the nerve to tell her parents. She was just so afraid of letting them down.
“Growing up, my parents always wanted the best for my siblings and me. They made sure we did well in school and continued on no matter what,” Belteton says. “I remember my mom telling me that all she wanted for me was to be better than she was, as she had only finished high school and worked as a nanny for many years.
Belteton’s parents divorced when she was young. At 23, she is the second oldest of five children—an older brother (30) and a younger sister (10) from her mom; and a younger brother and sister (12 and 5) from her dad.
She continued, “I knew the moment I told my parents I was pregnant, their views and dreams for me would change and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. My mom, who is my biggest supporter, made me realize that, no matter what, I needed to finish school. Not finishing was just not an option. I’ll never forget her telling me that I was no longer going to succeed for them, I had to do it for him—for my son. I realized that I needed to finish and continue following my dreams to make sure that I could also pave the way for my son to have a better future; one where he knew that education was important.”
While her decisions about college remained the same, what changed was where she would go to school and what she would study. She says she always wanted to do something in the stem field, specifically in architecture, but she did not feel she would be able to go that path with a baby to take care of and obligations at home.
Romelia gave birth to Ariel in December 2014 and graduated from Hayfield in June 2015. She enrolled at NOVA’s Alexandria Campus. She felt there was a lot of diversity at NOVA and it was easy to participate because the campus was relatively small.
“I made the decision to go to NOVA and pursue engineering so that I could avoid going into debt. I didn’t want my first years as a parent to start with me putting myself into debt,” she said.
She knew her mom could not provide much financial support. She chose NOVA to be close to home, since that’s where her support system was. She worked while attending school so she could take better care of her son and herself without putting any financial strain on her mother. Each year, she applied for and has gotten financial aid that helped cover the cost of tuition and sometimes books. She also was part of a scholarship program called Generation Hope that provides assistance to teen parents in college; as well as providing emotional support and resources to become better students and parents. Generation Hope has even started an internal program helping young parents learn how to prepare their kids of kindergarten.
At NOVA, she appreciated her engineering professor who helped her pick her classes and figure out what she would need to take during her last semester at NOVA so she would be ready to transfer to Mason.
The first semester at Mason was a bit challenging. The campus was much bigger than NOVA. Parking was different and class availability for transfer students was limited. It was overwhelming. However, she is an achiever. She adapted and is doing well. She expects to graduate from Mason in spring 2021.
“I am grateful for the support I’ve had over the years. I don’t know if I could’ve made it without my friends and family. Finding a sitter for late night classes, studying with a kid on your hip and making tough decisions on whether school or making money was more important has been incredibly hard. Every semester, I was faced with hard decisions on whether I could continue working or if I should limit my classes to make sure I could still work. I’m thankful that I have the support system to help push me.”
Romelia won a $2,500 Live Your Dream Award from Soroptimist Int’l of Manassas. This award recognizes the incredible tenacity of young women who are the primary financial support of their families and are attending school, working and raising a family.
“I want to finish my degree so that I can show my son and everyone that has doubted me that being a teen mom and going to school is possible.” She said. “I want to show everyone that I did not fail. I stumbled and got back up even stronger and more motivated.”
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.