28-Year-Old Mom of 6 Earns Diploma Over a Decade After She Was Forced to Drop Out of School

"I thought this is the time and I'm not going to quit this time," New Jersey mom Dafani Peralta said of setting out to reach her goal

Dropping out of high school after becoming pregnant, Dafani Peralta realizes a dream after completing her high school equivalency diploma. Peralta is the only member of her class receiving her diploma after passing the five necessary tests.
Dafani Peralta. Photo: Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com via USA Today Network

A mom of six was forced to drop out of high school after getting pregnant with her first child — but now she's proving it's better late than never as she earns her GED 12 years later.

Dafani Peralta, 28, told Good Morning America that earning her diploma from Paterson Adult & Continuing Education (P.A.C.E.) in New Jersey not only allowed her to achieve a longtime personal goal, but also set an example for her six children.

"I want them to see what their minds can do," she told the outlet of her kids, who are now 12, 10, 8, 7, 5 and 4. "I don't have to just say to go to school and graduate, I'm doing it."

"We have struggled so much as a family," Peralta added. "Now, we have opportunity, but it took us a long [time]."

Peralta first dropped out of high school 12 years ago after becoming pregnant with her first child, daughter Viarnneyra, according to GMA.

"I saw that my mom didn't even care about my education. She was really mad at me because I was pregnant," Peralta explained to the outlet. "It was really hard for me because I had my friends there and I wanted a better future for my daughter."

Dafani Peralta cuddles her youngest of six children, David Peralta, 4, who is fighting a cold, while Benjamin, 5, and Emmanuel, 7, comfort their brother and vie for DafaniÕs attention. Dafani must get Emanuel and Benjamin to camp and herself to the final day of her high school equivalency diploma class while organizing her other children for the arrival of their grandmother.
Dafani Peralta with her children. Amy Newman-NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

After giving birth to Viarnneyra at 15, Peralta hoped to return to school, but was unable to do so because of struggles related to providing for her daughter, GMA reported.

At the time, the pair lived between family members' homes as Peralta searched for a job. The task, as Peralta disclosed to the outlet, was far from easy because she lacked daycare for Viarnneyra.

"Everything was new that first year, just the responsibility and trying to keep my baby alive," Peralta admitted to GMA. "I wasn't really thinking about education that first year, but as she got older, I wanted to [go back to school] to help her education at home."

Over the years, the Paterson-based mom attempted to return to school multiple times, according to GMA. However, because she had five more children during that time, including one who was diagnosed with autism, Peralta ran into several care and transportation challenges.

While pregnant with her third child, had to wait "45 minutes to an hour in snow and rain" for the bus to school, which was "too difficult" for her at that time, Peralta told GMA.

Dafani Peralta jokes with her youngest son, David De La Cruz, 3. Dafani Peralta and Ramon De La Cruz and their six children, pictured in the family portrait on the wall, moved into their new home on 185 Hamilton Ave. in Paterson last year. The home is part of the "Hamilton 7," a group of seven Habitat for Humanity homes built on the block.
Dafani Peralta with her son. Amy Newman/USA Today Network/Sipa

Limited childcare availability after welcoming her third baby also forced Peralta to take her second child to school with her and drop her newborn off at a relative's house, GMA reported.

"It was too much and sometimes I didn't have money for the bus," she explained to the outlet.

Though her goal seemed farther out of reach by the year, Peralta refused to give up on her GED.

"There were a lot of situations going on and I had to give up something and I gave up my education to focus on my kids," she recalled. "Every time I'd go to get a job, they always ask for a high school diploma and I didn't have it."

"I couldn't give [my kids] simple things like help[ing] them with their math or their homework because I don't understand. It was really frustrating," she added. "I really love my kids and enjoy being with them at home, but I really felt that I wanted [an education] to go forward."

It wasn't until this past summer, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that Peralta realized she could take classes virtually and set out to get her high school diploma, according to GMA.

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While her sister-in-law watched her kids, Peralta took online classes through P.A.C.E.'s Spanish High School Equivalency (S-HSE) program, GMA reported.

"I thought this is the time and I'm not going to quit this time," Peralta told the outlet. "I took it seriously because I thought this was the opportunity of my life. I thought I'm not going to take it for granted. Now that my sister-in-law was there, I had no excuses."

According to GMA, the course combines three months of content into one month, which Peralta said made for an "intensive" experience. Despite its difficulty, Peralta immediately made an impression on her teachers, the outlet reported.

"The more work I gave her, the more effort she put into it. She really put her mind and her heart into what she was doing," Vilma Carranza, a teacher in the S-HSE program, recalled to GMA. "The program is very rigorous. It's not a simple, easy class to pass. And she was superb."

When Peralta learned she had passed all of her tests, she said she marked the occasion by celebrating at a bakery with Viarnneyra, who started this journey with her 12 years ago.

"She said, 'I'd go to your room and you were studying. It was nighttime and you were still studying,'" Peralta recalled. "'I saw the hard work and now we have to celebrate it.'"

Vranneyra told NorthJersey.com, "I was really happy for her."

In July, Peralta officially became one of nine students (out of an original class of 20) to earn her GED from the New Jersey Department of Education and graduate from P.A.C.E., according to GMA.

Today, she is looking into taking online classes at Berkeley College with hopes of opening a beauty shop one day, per NorthJersey.com. Meanwhile, Peralta's husband, who works as an electrician, is planning to also earn his high school degree at P.A.C.E., GMA reported.

"Now I have so many doors open," Peralta told NorthJersey.com. "I have to find out which one I want to open first."

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