Friday, June 08, 2012
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Motherhood didn't stop this Northside senior's academic excellence

"Having a child doesn't have to stop anything, it just rearranges it a little bit," Amber Cook's mother said.

Amber Cook, 18, plays with her 14-month-old daughter, Haleigh, last month on her mother's trampoline in Roanoke County. Cook is one of Northside High School's valedictorians, and is headed to Roanoke College in the fall.

Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times

Amber Cook, 18, plays with her 14-month-old daughter, Haleigh, last month on her mother's trampoline in Roanoke County. Cook is one of Northside High School's valedictorians, and is headed to Roanoke College in the fall.

Susan King (second from left) of Roanoke County holds Haleigh Cook, whom Amber Cook (second from right) drops off to spend time with 23-month-old Gia King (far right).

Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times

Susan King (second from left) of Roanoke County holds Haleigh Cook, whom Amber Cook (second from right) drops off to spend time with 23-month-old Gia King (far right).

Amber Cook walks down her mother's driveway in Roanoke County last month with her daughter, Haleigh, before going to take her final high school exam. Cook is headed to Roanoke College in the fall.

Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times

Amber Cook walks down her mother's driveway in Roanoke County last month with her daughter, Haleigh, before going to take her final high school exam. Cook is headed to Roanoke College in the fall.

Justin (from left), Amber and Haleigh Cook are seen in this family photo. Amber Cook graduates from Northside High School today.

Courtesy Cook family

Justin (from left), Amber and Haleigh Cook are seen in this family photo. Amber Cook graduates from Northside High School today.

Follow along

Amber Cook is an 18-year-old wife and mother.

She also is a valedictorian and one of more than 1,100 Roanoke County public school students graduating today at the Salem Civic Center or Glenvar High School's football stadium.

"It's not your typical teen pregnancy story," said Lisa Hambrick, Cook's mother-in-law.

Hambrick said she often caught Cook in the living room working on her homework while weeks-old Haleigh napped nearby in a bouncer seat.

"Most new moms would use every chance to sleep when the baby sleeps. Not Amber," she said.

Cook maintained her grade-point average through her pregnancy, Haleigh's birth and the next 14 months until now, Hambrick said.

Cook's mother, Susan King, a stay-at-home-mom, watches 14-month-old Haleigh while Cook is at school. King will continue to keep the baby when Cook takes college courses next fall.

"Having a child doesn't have to stop anything, it just rearranges it a little bit," King said.

Cook, an honor student, had enough credits to graduate early but she needed the senior class requirements — English 12 and U.S. Government. She also needed one more science credit to earn an advanced diploma. Cook took three classes this year at Northside High School, and in two of those courses she is dually enrolled for college credit.

Cook said she is glad she waited to graduate on time with her class because this year has given her time to adjust to life as a mother and a wife. And she received about $20,000 in scholarship money this spring that she might not have otherwise.

In the fall, Cook plans to attend Roanoke College, where she will begin with general education courses. She said she is leaning toward a business major.

"I want to help raise money for the Special Olympics," Cook said. "That's what I want to do when I grow up."

Cook's interest in children with special needs began in kindergarten in Salem, where a classmate with Down syndrome befriended her, Cook's mom said.

Cook transferred to Glen Cove Elementary School when she was in second grade. That's when she met Scarlett, a severely disabled and mostly nonverbal girl, with whom Cook formed a special bond. She visits Scarlett often in class at Northside. Cook she said she ate lunch in the special education room with Scarlett every day during her ninth- and 10th-grade years.

"She was a lot better behaved when I could see her because she was used to me," Cook explained.

Cook is a member of the National Honor Society, and this school year she served as president of Northside's German Club, senior class treasurer and student body treasurer.

"At graduation I'm going to be extremely decorated," she said excitedly of academic achievement regalia that will adorn her graduation garb.

Cook said she met her husband, Justin Cook, 18, via Facebook the summer before he transferred to Northside High School. She said the two were friends for several months before they started dating in the spring of 2010. About 11 months later, the couple's daughter was born, six weeks premature.

"The whole pregnancy thing, it was shocking because I was the nerdy goody-good kid," Amber Cook said. "People were like, 'Are you sure you're talking about the right Amber?'"

Haleigh was about 2 months old when Amber and Justin wed. The three live with Justin's mother and stepfather near Vinton. Justin Cook graduated from Northside last year.

"We wanted to make sure they were able to reach their goals," Hambrick said. "Our goal was to teach them how to be parents, not to raise their child."

And that's the way it has been, she said.

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