LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School System plans to launch a program next school year for teen mothers and pregnant teens that would provide on-campus child care and support services for the young mothers.
The program will be housed at Northside High School with a goal of expanding the program to all high schools in the 2014-15 school year, Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper said.
Cooper, who became superintendent in Lafayette Parish in January 2012, started a similar program as schools superintendent in McComb, Miss. He said that the program was successful in increasing the graduation rate of teen mothers and in lowering the rate of teen mothers having more children in high school.
“If those teen mothers drop out, data says they’re going to have a second or third baby,” Cooper said. “Our goal is to keep those mothers in school, help them graduate and hopefully not get pregnant again. Results show that if we do it this way, about 95 percent of those teen mothers will graduate from high school.”
The program is twofold, with a focus on providing teen mothers the support they need to finish high school while also preparing their children for kindergarten, he said.
“With this program, 90 to 95 percent of those children will enter kindergarten ready to learn. We’ve eliminated a huge problem area, if those students start school ready to learn,” Cooper said.
As part of the teen parenting program, the mothers also take courses on parenting and child development and receive training to become a “child development associate,” Cooper said.
Group counseling will also be provided, he said.
“When those girls finish with their diploma, they’ll also be certified to work in child care,” he said. “It is a wonderful program. It’s amazing how those girls respond.”
Teachers will also have access to the child care center at a reduced rate, Cooper said.
He estimated that between 100 to 150 girls in Lafayette Parish qualify for the program.
The district previously offered a program for pregnant teens and mothers called Genesis, but the program was small and only 12 teens attended last school year, he said.
The teen parenting program is part of the district’s turnaround plan, a six-year guide to improving the school district. The plan targets “special groups,” such as teen parents and dropouts, Cooper said.
The district recently partnered with a company that recruits dropouts and offers them online educational courses to complete a high school diploma. That program, offered by The American Academy, begins in February.