Responsibility goes beyond class work
Being responsible for the comfort and security of another human being is a pressure all new parents experience.
Combined with the demands of high school, one might begin to fathom the challenges faced by teen-age mothers and fathers.
South Tahoe High School’s Young Parents’ Program is aimed at providing support for teen mothers and fathers to ensure they reach their educational goals.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District teachers Susan Baker and Ivone Larson started the program two years ago.
“There was such a void in this district,” said Baker, an English teacher at the high school. “The (pregnant) girls were there but there wasn’t anything like this for them.”
There are more than 30 young parents enrolled this year in the program. Ten attend South Tahoe High or the Transitional Learning Center full-time. There are 18 students enrolled in the program’s Independent Study section and six in adult education. Everyone in the Young Parents’ Program is working toward passing the General Educational Development or California High School Proficiency exams or going for their high school diploma. Full-time high school students attend the Young Parents’ Program as their elective, where they learn parenting skills and work on homework. Independent Study students get both academic and parenting classes through Young Parents’.
Last year, nine out of 10 students enrolled in the program graduated.
Located near the football field at South Tahoe High, the Young Parents’ Program building allows students privacy and interaction.
Baker said many of the students in the program dropped out of school due to their pregnancy or because they could not find child care. The Young Parents’ Program allows parents to bring their children to the facility with them.
“The reason I come here is because I love learning,” said Ericka Hortado, the mother 10-month-old Joshua. “I want to get an education. I want to go to college and be something. I want my kid to have everything.”
Hortado, 20, said the Young Parents’ Program provided her with options to continue her education while raising her son.
“The program has helped me get back on track,” she said. “I can’t get my high school diploma but I am taking the GED. It’s pretty cool because they offer us so many options. We have a lot of stuff to choose from.”
Young Parents’ works in conjunction with local agencies including: Tahoe Youth and Family Services, El Dorado County Public Health Department, Social Services, Barton Clinic, Choices for Children, Early Head Start, Lake Tahoe Community College, the Literacy Council, Perinatal Support Team, Soroptimist International, WIC and the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.
Cindi Swalm, a counselor at Tahoe Youth and Family Services, goes to the Young Parents’ building every Tuesday to work with students.
“I was a teen mom and I graduated from a program like this and I went to college,” Swalm said. “I tell these girls if my lazy butt can do it, they can do it too. I actually had two kids when I was in high school. Here, the girls get support from each other and that peer support is so important.”
Mark Thurber, 17, and Kristina Charlton, 18, are working together to raise their 4-month-old daughter Athalia. Both Thurber and Charlton are enrolled in the Young Parents’ Program.
“This program is good because when I was pregnant I was really sick and they gave me time off,” Charlton said. “Also, I wouldn’t have anyone to watch (Athalia) if I went to regular school, but I can bring her here with me.”
Charlton, a senior in the program, plans to attend college when she graduates.
“I want to study law in college,” she said. “I’ll graduate (high school) this year.”
Thurber said he loves his daughter but realizes it is difficult to have a child at such a young age.
“Something I learned is not to have kids at my age,” said Thurber, a junior in the program. “It makes it harder when you’re young. I was happy from the start about this but it does make it harder. This is my first child but I’ve had experience with my nieces and nephews.”
Thurber said graduating high school is one of his main priorities.
“I’m just trying to graduate because what’s the point of me telling my daughter to graduate when she gets older if I can’t even do it myself?” he said. “I’m going to take the California High School Proficiency Exam. It’s accepted everywhere just like a diploma. I’m a computer technician. I’m just not certified yet so I want to go to ITT Tech.”
Some goals of the Young Parents’ Program were listed as follows:
n To increase the retention of teens and school-age parents in high school.
n To recruit young parents not currently enrolled in an academic or vocational program.
n To increase parenting skills and life skills for young parents.
n To provide “wrap around” support which promotes healthy lifestyles to ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.
n To create an atmosphere that fosters student success, building of self-esteem and personal responsibility, thus decreasing the risk of repeat pregnancy in young parents.
Jason Munzke and Tom Greene from Lake Tahoe Community College are hosting a luncheon and tour of the college April 24 for members of the Young Parents’ Program.
“Just because our girls are pregnant or mothers, doesn’t mean they are not bright,” Baker said. “We push college for all of our girls.”
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