‘From a teenager lover, to an unwed mother, kept undercover like some bad dream…’ (John Prine, ‘Unwed Fathers’)
If the teen mothers in your local school district are getting the support they need, I wouldn’t get used to it. Nationwide, funding for some of the best pre and postnatal services ever developed have come under fire, portending hard times for our youngest moms-to-be.
Designed primarily for teen moms already on or headed for public assistance, the bulk of the support services in question are basic but crucial: tutoring; child care; parenting skills; transportation to and from school.
Lost in the funding cuts is the fact that these approaches are working. Outcomes for such programs have been stellar: more pregnant and parenting young women are graduating from high school than ever before.
But if bellwether school districts in Florida and California are any indication, that’s about to change. Squeezed by vanishing federal and state funding, local school districts in those states have slashed pre/postnatal programming, resulting in an uptick in applications for welfare benefits among pregnant girls and young women ages 15-19.
Should additional states follow influential California and Florida, it’s a sure bet that pregnancy will remain the Number One reason female students don’t finish high school in this country.
Yet what appears on the surface to be strictly about money may also be a lack of awareness – of wheels already invented:
Longfellow High (Minneapolis) is a district-wide alternative school designed to serve the educational and related needs of pregnant and parenting students, many of whom live in low-income circumstances.
Personalized curricula; teacher/staff instruction; online learning; group-based projects – the school is a poster child for progressive education and a blueprint for what students, staff, local municipalities and communities can do despite weakening revenue streams.
It’s an idea waiting to be discovered.
Denver’s Florence Crittendon High School is yet another template for how to give pregnant students a hand up.
In the Crittendon model, a non-profit agency linked with Denver Public Schools and the Colorado Department of Education to create an umbrella of services akin to Longfellow’s, but includes counseling and much needed programs for teen fathers.
It’s an exercise in collaboration.
Not so long ago we shamed pregnant girls and sent them home, giving them over to what if any support they could muster. Rather than making budgets that echo that sad period, legislators, departments of education and local school boards should be casting about for success stories. And how to put them to use.
Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Eugene, Ore. Email donaldlrollins@ gmail.com.
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2013
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