Senior Spotlight: Leslie Morales-Gallegos
Leslie Morales-Gallegos calls her day planner her “best friend.”
She bought it at Walmart last summer for $12. Along with a handful of Paper Mate ink pens, all different colors, Leslie kept track of her online classes at Kearns Academy and her full-time job as a cashier at Elizabeth’s Pizza.
She needed to. Her schedule was crazy.
She was working at least 40 hours a week and took classes at both Kearns Academy and GTCC. She wants to save money for college and a car. She wants a Jeep or a Camaro. But she also wants to be the first member of her family to graduate from college.
First, she has to graduate from Kearns Academy of Computer and Information Science, one of Guilford County’s five academies earmarked for career and technical education.
Thanks to her day planner, she will. On Thursday.
The fun part is how.
The Entrepreneurial Side of Leslie
Like many high school students in Guilford County, Leslie wasn’t a big fan of online classes. She liked seeing her teachers and her classmates face to face. But because a global pandemic forced students to stay home, Leslie endured online classes last spring.
When online classes continued last fall, Leslie worried how she would handle it.
“This is crazy,” she told herself. “How am I going to manage and learn?”
Then, she got an idea. She always wanted to figure out a way where she could have a full-time job –– and go to school. But could she do it?
Since seventh grade, Leslie has socked way her monthly allowance. But she’s wanted to find ways to save even more money because she wants to go to college and not have her parents worry about those expenses.
They work hard, six days a week. Her dad, Marco, works in Winston-Salem shipping wholesale produce to restaurants. Her mom, Gabriela, works in High Point folding and packing socks at a hosiery mill.
Leslie always knew she had to pitch in to help her parents pay for her college. So, as she began her senior year at Kearns Academy in High Point, she began searching for her first full-time job.
She searched online and found one. Elizabeth’s Pizza in High Point hired her as a cashier in September. Leslie started working six days a week, with Tuesday being her only day off. She began a schedule that had her finishing homework at all hours of the day.
That included 1 in the morning.
She needed help. She found it with her $12 day planner and her Paper Mate pens.
‘I’m Proud of Myself’
She used a blue pen for home chores and a pink pen for schoolwork or homework. She used a green pen for work and an orange pen for anything fun with her friends.
She’d get her weekly work schedule on a Saturday, and she wrote out everything for that week. She reviewed her day planner every morning, and she knew what days she had GTCC classes from 12 to 3 p.m. and what days she had to be at work at 4 p.m. for a six-hour shift.
Then, she figured out when to study, when to eat, when to shower, when to relax and when she could plan to see her friends Friday night.
Week after week, month after month, Leslie followed that schedule. She maintained her grades and began saving money for college and a car. She plans to go GTCC for two years before transferring to UNC-Greensboro to study business.
Her structured schedule helped her dream. It also helped her sanity. She persevered. She was a full-time student with a full-time job who learned how to manage her time and her energy with the help of a day planner and a few Paper Mate pens.
“You know, it helped me tremendously,” she says of her day planner. “It was like my best friend. I was able to plan out everything I had, and it helped me keep focused. My time management improved because I wrote everything down on what I had to do.
“Not just work, but what I had to do at home and my private life. I’m proud of myself.”
The Benefits of Hard Work
After Northwood Elementary and Welborn Middle, Leslie chose to go to Kearns Academy because she wanted to become a certified nursing assistant. She also liked Kearns because she could take classes at GTCC, too.
She has taken a dozen classes at GTCC and gotten a jump start on college because of the dual enrollment.
Heather Jones, Kearns’ counselor, helped Leslie navigate her college schedule. Her English teacher, Gary Gray, helped her navigate her life. Gray, a teacher with 16 years of experience, answered her questions about schoolwork, college and beyond.
“He was somebody I could talk to and depend on,” Leslie says. “He was always there for you, especially when I wasn’t comfortable talking to my parents about schoolwork. He was somebody you could understand.”
As she edges toward college, Leslie also understands her parents and their journey.
They came together as a couple from northern Mexico more than 20 years ago. They wanted to find a better life and start a family. First came Leslie. Then came Alex, now an eighth-grader at Ferndale Middle School.
Leslie will now become the first in her family to graduate from high school and head to college.
“Knowing that helps me stay motivated,” she says. “I’m thankful for my parents’ sacrifice. They came to build a future for themselves and their future children. Now, my brother and I will have an opportunity to get a degree and do something we want to do. They wanted to make us happy.”
Yes, Leslie says.
“I didn’t think I could do a full-time job and maintain my grades,” she says. “But I did, and it shows I can do pretty much anything I want to if I’m motivated. I’ve put in a lot of hard work. It’ll pay off eventually.”