California Educator

October 2015

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are born, but once their babies are older, they'll have time to pursue higher educa- tion and a career. They may be pregnant or parents, but they are just as capable as any other student at any other high school." "I love my students and I love this popu- lation," says Robin Vander Mei-Roos, who teaches history, science, health and PE. "We have some students who are coming from schools where they took AP and honors classes, and others who are 18 years old with only 10 credits toward graduation. But suddenly they are going to be mothers, and they have to get it together. It's a catalyst that motivates them to think of their future." For some girls who are headed down a wrong path, motherhood can be the factor that turns their lives around, says Vander Mei-Roos, because now they have a baby to care for. Other students who were on an "upward trajectory" and then became pregnant may become depressed and "have the wind taken out of their sails," she observes. "It will require some juggling, but they can do it," she says. "It will definitely be a huge challenge. But these kids are, for the most part, resilient." Eloisa Ledesma often reminds students that young parenthood can be the beginning, not the end, of a happy life. She has been in their shoes; she was a student at McAlister in 1981, when she was pregnant with her son. Now she is the school's secretary. "I try to talk to them and motivate them," she says. "And I love it when they bring their babies to visit." Parenting skills are paramount "There is no safe level of alcohol or drugs when it comes to babies," Lakkis tells students during a parenting class. "Drugs such as meth, cocaine and marijuana can cause learning disabilities and brain damage. Problems may not show up until a child starts school." One of his students asks if drugs also affect sperm, and Lakkis ponders the ques- tion. He says that drugs are bad for everybody, but there is more to worry about if an expectant mother ingests them than a father before conception. "I want my students to be good parents," says Lakkis. "I want them to learn how to be nurturing and also how to set limits with their kids. I want them to be able to offer their children intellectual stimulation. I tell my students to read, because when their child sees Mommy reading, he or she will also want to read. I also tell them to read to their child and talk to their child and make learning fun for them." Child development classes help students understand what to expect regarding their child's physical, social, emotional and intellectual development in the first five years. And even though they may be children having children, students will be better prepared to meet the needs of a newborn, toddler and eventually school-age child. A pregnant student who wishes to remain anonymous says the parenting class has taught her how to eat healthier and take care of herself so her son, whom she plans to name Nathan, will have a better chance of being healthy. She recently eliminated junk food from her diet and is eating more fruits and vegetables. "We're young, but we want to do the best we can," she says. "That's why we're here." P R E G N A N T T E E N S W E R E shunned and expelled from school decades ago. But Title IX, which passed in 1972, stipulates that pregnant and parent- ing students have a right to a quality education just like any other stu- dent. Nonetheless, it can be tough going to traditional schools, where students are penalized for missing classes for pregnancy-related med- ical reasons and shamed by peers and sometimes by staff. A recent re- port by the American Civil Liberties Union says that schools often place "barriers" in the way of pregnant or parenting teens, so that they drop out or wind up in alternative settings such as McAlister. California does not keep records of how many pregnant or parent- ing students are enrolled in public schools. Until recently, these stu- dents were able to enroll in the Cal- ifornia School Age Families Educa- tion program (Cal-SAFE). Founded in 2000, the program was considered highly effective, with more than 73 percent of Cal-SAFE students grad- uating from high school, according to a report from the Legislature. But Cal-SAFE programs have been cut from many districts. Eliminating these programs may save money in the short run, but in the long run it may prove expensive. A study out of Northeastern Univer- sity found that high school dropouts cost taxpayers $292,000 over the course of their lives. And a lack of support for teen moms makes life more difficult for their babies, who already face challenges of poverty, unstable homes and health issues. Should school districts reinstate Cal-SAFE or similar programs? Tell us what you think @CATeachersAssoc. Right to an Education Office worker (and former student) Eloisa Ledesma. 48 Learning

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