School program provides support for teen mothers
Olivia Armstead ended her freshman year of high school in May with a 3.8 grade point average and twin girls — Kylie and Rylie.
Juggling high school and motherhood has been easier with the support of her parents, who care for the girls while she’s at school and who also push their 15-year-old daughter to keep up her academics. Now, a new program starting in January at Northside High will help keep Olivia closer to her children during the day while helping her learn how to become a better parent.
The teen mother has applied for one of the 16 spots in the district’s new Family and Child Development Center, a program that provides parenting support education and child care services to teen parents and expectant teen parents.
Tara McGinnis, Olivia’s mother, said the program is needed to help teen parents with their responsibilities to their academics and their children, said.
“She’s a completely hands-on and responsible for her children except when she’s in school,” Tara McGinnis said. “I believe anytime a parent — no matter the age — receives parenting classes it’s beneficial.”
Olivia has family support and parents who tell her that quitting school is not an option, but there are other girls who don’t have the same support and need the additional help to stay in school, Tara McGinnis said.
“It’s a needed program, especially for those who do not have positive support,” she said.
While the program will be housed at Northside High, enrollment is open to teens — both mothers and fathers — across the parish.
So far, Olivia is one of eight female students who has applied for one of the 16 seats in the program, said June Inhern, assistant director of early childhood programs. She said more girls are out there who could benefit from the program.
Inhern said she’s met with school counselors to share information about the program and to gauge potential student interest since school began Aug. 14. Seats in the program will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, she said, and if interest exceeds the 16 available seats, applicants will be placed on a waiting list. If there’s a demand for the program, Inhern said she’d appeal to the School Board for an expansion.
She said she’s talked to some students who are interested in the program, but don’t want to leave their home school.
The program was initially proposed for 32 students. But because the School Board declined to fund the requested $205,000 to renovate portable buildings to house the program, Superintendent Pat Cooper proposed reducing the program size — and needed renovations — to 16 students. The School Board initially rejected the reduced project cost but approved it after a second review.
The only cost to the school district is renovations to prepare portable buildings for the students, as instructional and child care costs will be funded with federal and state funding.
The program is designed to prevent teen parents from dropping out of school and to prepare their children for kindergarten. Pat Cooper started a similar program, still in operation, in East Feliciana Parish about 20 years ago.
Cooper has said the support such programs provide to both the teens and their children has been shown to improve graduation rates among teen parents and the academic success of their children. Research also shows similar programs reduce subsequent pregnancies, Cooper has said.
Students in the parenting program will take electives that can lead to certification and jobs in the child care industry.
Based on the most recent data available, 261 Lafayette Parish teens between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in 2011.
National data shows only 50 percent of teen mothers earn their high school diploma by the time they turn 22, said Amy Zapata, director of the Bureau of Family Health within the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospital’s Office of Public Health.
Only 10 percent of teen mothers complete a two- or four-year degree program, she added.
“The impact is also significant on teen fathers who have 25 to 30 percent lower probability from graduating high school (compared with) teenage boys who are not fathers,” Zapata said.