PHOTO BY KATELYN LAU (Left to right) Special education teachers Jamie Kohl, Lily Ulloa, and Kristianne Sugiyama-Saucedo go on occasional walks when they are free, to spend quality time with each other. Sugiyama cherishes this break in the workday with her colleagues. .

Sugiyama carries baby, friendship carries Sugiyama

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Walking down the school’s brick-colored track, special education teacher Kristianne Sugiyama-Saucedo chats away with her close co-workers besides her. Even with so many things on her plate, from grading homework assignments to the next doctor’s appointment, Sugiyama feels her stress fade away with every step she takes.   

Sugiyama is expecting to welcome her daughter Penelope Natsumi Sugiyama on Aug. 1. Her future daughter’s middle name, Natsumi, translates to “summer beauty” in Japanese, following a tradition within her husband’s family where it is customary to have a Japanese middle name. Sugiyama’s family, friends, and co-workers have supported her through her pregnancy, ensuring her safety and health.

“Everyone’s been super supportive,” Sugiyama said. “All the clerks in the office have been excited, asking me what I need and secretly bringing me sweets. There are many experienced mothers and new mothers within our staff, so I get a variety of feedback and opinions. I also didn’t expect my students to be excited, but they are always asking how I feel and how the baby is.” 

With the staff and students continuing to show Sugiyama immense care and attention, her anxiety from the approaching due date is relieved. Along with the wide range of support, Sugiyama finds herself facing her most difficult challenge—accepting the help due to her past unhealthy relationship.  

“I was in an abusive relationship,” Sugiyama said. “When you’re pregnant, you get a lot of ‘You can’t lift things that are heavy’ or ‘You shouldn’t do this.’ The hardest part for me is to think about why I shouldn’t be doing certain things. They’re not telling me this to be controlling; it’s from a caring perspective.”

Despite obstacles, the staff’s support and advice has had a major impact on Sugiyama’s journey. This is exemplified by the walks around the track with the staff during lunch.

“I love my walks around the track,” Sugiyama said. “Kathleen Wright and Davina Dominguez are my accountability partners. It’s nice to take a break and have girltime in the middle of the day. Sometimes I feel tired and don’t want to walk, but knowing that I get to spend quality time with friends overpowers that. When I am out there, I don’t feel tired or anything because I’m having a fun time.”

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