The Hechinger Report noted that “300,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth every year” in the US, but about 95 percent of them have never had a child, according to the US Census Bureau’s data from 2012. With about 10.4 million girls in the US between those ages, close to 3 percent of them, or about 1 out of every 35 girls, gave birth in the last 12 months.
School districts used to shuttle these girls off to special schools, hidden away from the rest of the world, where they would receive prenatal care, childcare, and other important services. The landscape has changed somewhat, thanks in part to technological advances. Now, some of these girls are fortunate enough to attend charter schools that offer classes online.
It’s not an ideal place to learn, said the principal at one charter school where pregnant or parenting teens get an education. The new charter, known as Pathways Academy and found on Detroit’s east side, is in a shopping center. Detroit has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, and Pathways is the only school dedicated to young parents there.
This is one of the biggest reasons why eliminating charter schools from our public school landscape would be a mistake. They serve a purpose for a small percentage of students who can’t acquire an adequate education in traditional neighborhood schools. Although teen pregnancy rates have decreased a little in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those teens that do get pregnant aren’t throwaway kids.
“I want to get my high school diploma so my baby won’t be like, ‘Whoa, you didn’t get yours? Why I gotta get mine, mama?’ ” one teenage student at the school was quoted as saying. She was taking care of two children during the school day while pounding out lessons on a computer.
Unfortunately, about one-third of pregnant or parenting teens will not finish high school. We note that this is a correlation, not a causation, and we haven’t been able to confirm that number. But if it’s anything close to the one-third mark, it alarms us.
And please don’t take my commentary to mean I support virtual schools. Pathways is a brick-and-mortar school, and so it’s not just some high-tech version of the kinds of schools we used to hide pregnant girls in, away from other students. It may not offer AP classes or have a National Honor Society chapter, but it gives girls an option they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“Is it equitable in terms of academic rigor? Probably not,” the Hechinger Report quoted Patricia Paluzzi, CEO of the Baltimore-based Healthy Teen Network, as saying. “But we want these kids to graduate from high school with a diploma and we want them to get prenatal care. We want their kids to get good childcare and we want them to learn to be effective parents, so I’m happy to see that at least there’s an alternative that’s been put into place.”
The organization has a lofty mission, advocating for teen parents. “All adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, have a right to comprehensive, developmentally and culturally appropriate, confidential support and services, including contraceptive services, and if pregnant, to full options counseling and services,” the group writes in its mission statement.
In many places where appropriate charter schools aren’t available and the public schools aren’t able to provide either birth control or appropriate services for student parents, either because of budget issues or for some other reason, community-based organizations, such as the Madden Shelter on Chicago’s near northwest side, can help pregnant or parenting teens cope with childcare demands and still make it to graduation with good grades.
“It is amazing that they are so resilient. They go through things that I am sure would have broken me,” the Chicago Sun-Times quoted a clinical therapist there as saying about one teen mom getting help at the Madden Shelter.