Nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent, especially when it’s unexpected. Mariana Thomas knows that well.
“I lost my dad when I was 12,” Mariana said. “I would stay home every morning. And every morning that I woke up, I’d be like, ‘Please let this be a bad dream. Please just let this be a nightmare.’ And every time I woke up, my dad wasn’t there.”
On Feb. 19, 2013, Mario Thomas died after suffering serious injuries in a car crash in Pittsburg. Five years later, Mariana is still coping with the loss of her dad.
“A girl is supposed to look up to her dad,” Mariana said. “Her dad is supposed to be her hero. Her number 1 hero in the world. When you lose your father, it feels like you don’t have nobody here to save you anymore.”
In the wake of his death, Mariana spiraled out of control. She admits she used fighting as a means to deal with her pain. At school, she lacked interest in her classes which led to poor grades.
“I started off at Freedom High School in Oakley,” Mariana said. “I didn’t really go to class like that. I had all F’s. I only had one B at that school.”
Mariana needed a fresh start, so she transferred to Black Diamond High, a continuation school in Pittsburg.
“She came here and she hadn’t found her footing yet,” Black Diamond High Vice Principal Eric Hosking said. “And she was behind. And then, after a couple quarters, she started to connect.”
One of the educators Mariana connected with was one of her teachers, Nadedja Casselberry. It was Casselberry who helped Mariana work through some of the trauma in her life.
“We all go through things,” Casselberry said. “Every single one of us. She’s rare in the fact that she’s able to maintain her composure despite the obstacles she faces. She can come in with a smile every day.”
When asked where she would be without the educators at Black Diamond High, Mariana responded in blunt terms.
“If I never came here and got the support that I got, I honestly feel like I probably would have been in jail,” Mariana said. “I really appreciate a lot of these staff members and teachers because I know they’ve seen the potential in me. I just knew it because they never gave up on me. They never gave up on me. Ever. They showed me that they cared and they were there for me when I needed somebody.”
Hosking says it’s students like Mariana who remind him to develop relationships with all of the students so they have a better understanding of the challenges they face on a daily basis.
“You have to get to know them to know their backstory,” Hosking said. “And if you don’t know their backstory or what they’re struggling with at the time, you don’t understand how special they are.”