Paulina walked slowly down the hall, her gait marked by the waddle of many pregnant mothers. As she came closer, you could see her belly, slightly swollen. You felt her discomfort as she squeezed into her desk. Five months in, she hadn't seen a doctor or taken any vitamins. The baby's father wasn't in the picture. There were rumors of rape. Her parents had all but disowned her.
What role should the school play in the life of a teenage mom? How can we help?
Of course we don’t advocate teen pregnancy. Pregnancy prevention is the best policy. However, the question is what to do when it happens—because it will happen.
Like all teenagers—no matter their creed, race, gender—young mothers are still students deserving an equal opportunity for education. A school needs to be flexible in making that happen.
Sadly, the fact is teen moms are more likely to drop out than graduate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 50 percent of teen moms get their diploma. Of those who get their high school diploma, only an estimated 2 percent will graduate from college by age 30. It’s not only hard to be a mom while going through school, but that most schools do not offer teen moms the needed support.
In fact, only a few states have specific laws requiring schools to provide special services for teen moms like home-bound studies or in-school programs. Other states, like Kansas, have no laws regarding attendance or alternative programs. Some states “require” helpful programs for teen moms. Others “encourage” them. Some schools do an excellent job of serving pregnant or parenting teens.
A teen mother's success seems unfortunately tied to the luck of the draw—the state and district where she attends school. One purpose of public education is to help create capable, contributing citizens—even if they are young moms. A little help now may be all she needs to stay on the path of education.
We need to champion their needs—whether that means speaking to your administration, board of education members, or even state legislators. And, if you have any pregnant students, be flexible and supportive as best you can. It can be as simple as providing a comfortable desk area or, on a larger scale, supplying materials and instruction needed while she recovers during maternity leave.
No matter what our personal philosophy is on teen pregnancy, we need to boost our students’ likelihood for success.
Paulina, a senior, had a baby boy in January. With the support of her teachers and school counselor, she had started taking prenatal vitamins, regularly seeing a doctor and will be participating in a home-bound study program when she's on maternity leave. She is determined to graduate—for a better future for her and her baby.
Sansbury is a middle and high school teacher in Georgia.