By GRACE METZGER
Marni Sparks is keeping her promise.
At 16, she said, she told her "Grandma Harper" she would be a teacher when she grew up. After 20 years, three kids and a few bends in the road, Marni received her high school diploma Wednesday from Sierra Hills Adult Education Center in San Andreas.
A small ceremony on Goldstrike High School's basketball court in San Andreas honored 46 graduates from Calaveras Unified School District's alternative high schools Wednesday night.
"Most of these kids have been unsuccessful in regular high school," said teacher Jason Remmers. "A lot of them were behind and they've worked really hard.
"They didn't think they'd ever graduate."
Marni has already begun the next step toward fulfilling her pledge. In April, she started early childhood education classes at Delta College in Stockton with the goal of earning an associate's degree.
It's a goal she should have reached a long time ago, Marni says.
Named after the blonde heroine in a 1970s Alfred Hitchcock film, Marni grew up in a single-parent home in Chico. As a high school student, she got good grades and worked at an after-school day care.
Then she met a boy and dropped out of school. "It was the typical story," she said. "My mom was a single mom and worked full time, and there was no support from my dad. I ran wild. It took a while for me to grow up."
At 19, Marni became pregnant and gave birth to Erica. "School was definitely the furthest thing from my mind," she remembers.
In 1985, she moved to Calaveras County with her mother, Sharon Wentz, to run the Waystation Restaurant in Mokelumne Hill. She struggled, trying to raise her daughter without a good father figure.
On Valentine's Day of the next year she met Kevin Sparks at the Fireman's Ball in Mokelumne Hill. She said she remembers thinking, "There are still knights in shining armor around." The couple began dating that night and were married in 1990.