When Micayla Puffer found out in her sophomore year at North Forsyth High School that she was pregnant, she felt determined to finish school and continue with the goals she has always had for herself and her career.
Early on in her pregnancy, she realized she wouldn’t be able to stay at North Forsyth. She began having morning sickness throughout most of the day and could not come to campus until after school hours. That was when she learned about Mountain Education Charter High School.
The night school, open 4-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday, offers self-paced classes to students year-round for those looking for other options outside of a traditional school. For Puffer, Mountain Ed was exactly what she needed.
She enrolled her junior year, and her teachers and mentors there lifted her up and showed excitement for her and her journey as she worked, succeeded in school and had her baby, Annabelle, at the end of 2019.
In May, they looked on in pride as Puffer walked across the stage at graduation with Annabelle on her hip. Not only did she graduate while juggling her new life as a mother, she also earned the highest GPA among her graduating class at MECHS in Forsyth County and earned a place as an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Cup winner.
When she was called up to the stage, Puffer said she couldn’t believe it.
“I really had no idea that I was going to receive either the AJC Cup or that I had the highest GPA,” Puffer said. “They told me to write a speech about what Mountain Ed meant to me and how it helps me …. And then when they started calling everything up, I was like, ‘What do you mean I have the highest? How is that possible?’”
In her speech, Puffer attributed much of her success in school to MECHS and her teachers there, along with her family and friends who have helped her take care of Annabelle.
The flexibility that MECHS offered allowed Puffer to stay at home with her baby during the day before she went to school in the evening. Not only did she not have to pay for a babysitter, which she couldn’t afford, but she also got to be there for Annabelle in the way she really wanted.
“I watched her first steps, I [heard] her first words, I watched her crawl for the first time — I got to watch everything for the first 10 months of her life,” Puffer said. “It was just amazing to get to see all of that and then be able to go to school at night.”
On top of that, Puffer was also able to attend school at her own pace, working as quickly toward graduation as she could in a warm, welcoming environment.
When she first transferred to MECHS, she was immediately surprised and overwhelmed by the support shown to her by her teachers and peers. With classes being much smaller at the charter school than in a traditional classroom, Puffer had time to interact more one-on-one with her counselors and teachers when she needed extra help.
She felt more accepted at MECHS overall. Puffer still remembers when many of her peers at North Forsyth started to find out that she was pregnant. She could feel students staring at her in the hallways, casting what felt like judgmental glances at her from afar.
At MECHS, her teachers always asked how she was feeling, saying they couldn’t wait to meet her baby girl. They watched her grow from the beginning of her pregnancy to the end, and they stuck by her as she took on motherhood.
“Everybody loved me and her, and it was just such a different environment than a [traditional] school,” Puffer said.
Many of the administrators, teachers and students were beyond excited to see Puffer succeed in school and earn what they said are well-deserved accolades.
Site Administrator Kim Barnes said Puffer became a true leader at the school during her time there, showing a strong work ethic and respect to all her teachers. She also continues to inspire other young parents who are working toward their own goals.
“Micayla was driven internally and showed remarkable persistence in the pursuit of her high-school diploma,” Barnes said. “We are extremely proud of Micayla.”
Puffer worked hard to earn her diploma for herself and to make her family proud, and she is looking forward to buying a house with Annabelle’s father, Mason Terry, and heading off to college in the future. Most importantly, Puffer said she got her diploma for Annabelle.
“I wanted my daughter to grow up knowing that she could do anything no matter what happened in her life,” Puffer said. “That she could be strong. She could accomplish anything she wanted and that nothing should hold her back because no matter what people say, it doesn’t matter. It matters how much you push yourself and how much you believe in yourself.”
Puffer wants to continue to use her own experience as a way to inspire others, especially girls and young women, who find themselves in similar situations. No matter what happens, she said it’s important for people to stick to their goals and dreams.
“You can’t let [anything] stop you, and you have to believe in yourself more than other people try to tear you down,” Puffer said. “You’re the one who pushes yourself. You set your goals, so you can go as high as you want.”