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Helping teen parents in schools

Interesting article about how HISD high schools helps the moms and moms-to-be among its students. Two points to make:

Most teen moms don’t graduate high school, and national statistics show that far fewer — only 2 percent — go on to earn a college degree before age 30. The problem is particularly profound in Houston — where more girls under 15 give birth than in any other U.S. city, according to a report last week from the research nonprofit Child Trends.

While many pregnant girls used to be shipped off in shame to special schools, districts these days report a full-court press to try to keep expectant students and young moms coming to class.

Like Lee High School, several Houston-area campuses offer free on-site day care, as well as more flexible school hours. Some districts have night classes, for example, while others offer online courses students can take at their own pace.

“The cynic in me might say that because it’s so relatively common nowadays that young people get pregnant that schools are just, out of sheer repetition, better at dealing with it,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Schools must walk a fine line, Albert said, between condoning teen pregnancy and supporting teen parents. “We have to send a message that teen pregnancy is not OK and be able to help young mothers succeed,” he said. “That’s tough.”

I guess I don’t quite get the worry about glamorizing teen pregnancy. I mean, all you really have to do is make sure everyone sees just how much time and effort it takes for these girls to care for their babies while still working towards completing their studies. Seems to me the reality is a stronger message than any a teacher or principal or counselor could give. And not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t think the girls who are taking care of their business need to be stigmatized or shamed, certainly not by the very schools that are trying to help them graduate. It’s clear they get enough of that from their daily lives – just read the comments on the Chron story (yeah, I know, I should know better, but I couldn’t help myself), where the prevailing opinion seems to be that it would be better to just throw them all out onto the street, for a taste of that. In short, I think there’s more than enough people telling them that they shouldn’t have done what they did.

The other point is what about the fathers of these girls’ children? That’s a complicated issue.

Sylvia Cook, who has overseen Cy-Fair’s program for about a decade, said she thinks even more pregnant girls aren’t coming forward statewide. Some, she said, are scared off because they have to register the baby’s father with the Texas attorney general’s office to get state aid.

I presume that’s because a nontrivial number of those fathers would be in legal jeopardy if their identities were revealed in that fashion. It’s not exactly a secret that a lot of these baby daddies are significantly older than the mommies, which would make them guilty of statutory rape. The reality of that is more complicated than the usual rhetoric would have you believe. If there’s a delicate balancing act that the schools need to do here, it would be in making sure the fathers are taking responsibility as well, at least in the situations where the mother wants them to be responsible.

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  1. Valerie says:

    I taught for five years at a Title 1 school with about 75% of students on free or reduced lunch. In a student population of about 1100, we usually had 40-50 pregnant girls per year. Many more already had kids, and a number of those who were pregnant already had a baby.

    The pregnancy glamorization thing is actually, IMHO, a real concern. When these girls see other girls who are pregnant and having babies, they usually don’t see the reality of it — only that girl’s one or two closest friends do. They see the “fun” of it: getting attention, baby showers, buying baby things, and so on. Oh, and did I saw getting attention? I’ve seen this with my own eyes, more than once.

    Most of the girls I have known personally have, after having the baby for a few months, wished they’d made different decisions even though they loved their babies. But by then, they are barely coming to school or only coming for class and leaving right away, and either spending all their time at home or working because they have the baby, or leaving it with someone (usually the grandparents) and going out with friends all the time. Either way, the other girls, the ones without kids, don’t see the hard part of having a baby.

    I’m not saying they should be stigmatized, and I completely support schools’ efforts to help these girls. But the glamorization concern is a real one.

  2. cynthia says:

    I agree with Valerie. I am an assistant principal in a school of 800 in rural Alabama and we have already had 5 babies born since school started. What was happening 9 months ago? I have researched teen parent programs because we do need to see that the girls stay in school and get the support they need to be successful. However, the diliema seems to be where are the evidenced based sex ed programs? Certainly, not in the middle school grades where they need to be. We need to remove the stigma of the conversation and pursue prevention of babies that come to these young girls too soon in their lives.