FOR Ashley Bews, pregnancy did not mean the end of her education, but the beginning.
The young mother, who is expecting her second baby next year, will sit her HSC this week along with more than 70,000 other students.
Now aged 22, she dropped out of high school in her mid-teens because she ''just didn't care'' about getting an education at that stage of her life.
All that changed when she discovered she was pregnant with Dylan, now four.
''It actually made my mind up to go back to school and get a qualification so I could give my son the best life possible,'' she said. ''It's been a long road but it's been worth it.''
Ms Bews is one of five girls doing the HSC through a young mothers' program run at Dynamic Alternative Learning Environment (DALE), administered by St Philip's Christian Education Foundation in Newcastle.
Fellow HSC student, Dannielle Papworth, 18, who is raising two-year-old Sieuri and one-year-old Oden, said juggling homework and nappy changes was a struggle but she was determined.
''It's exhausting but this is not just about my future, it's about the future for my children as well,'' she said. ''I have to do something to make sure our future is the best it can be.''
Combining study and child-rearing also throws up unusual dilemmas, says 19-year-old Aimee O'Connor, who is 20 weeks pregnant and has a year-old daughter, Chloe.
''She's not walking yet but she is at that age when she's into everything - the other day she tore up one of my practice tests,'' Ms O'Connor said.
Phoebe Stubbs, 19, looks forward to studying as time out from looking after her son, Sawyer, 21 months.
''I don't get any time to study when I'm at home but when I come here [to school] I get a break from my son and I can focus on my work.''
DALE has been running for 12 years and has an on-site creche where students can leave their babies while they're in class.
English teacher Amanda McInnes, who runs the HSC program at the school, said the girls were an inspiration.
''The HSC is stressful for any child but some of our students are up all night with sick babies, they go into that exam on Monday absolutely sleep deprived through no fault of their own,'' she said. ''They have incredible resilience.''
Many students undertake further education at university or TAFE after completing their HSC.
''They're often the first in their families to go on to tertiary education,'' Ms McInnes said.
''They're often in a cycle of welfare dependency and poverty and lack of education. One of the goals of the program is to help them break out of that and education is the key.''