NEW YORK — Stacia Lee is a senior at High School Redirection in New York's Brownsville section of Brooklyn, an area with one of the highest birth rates for teenage mothers in the nation.
Lee attends Redirection - a school for older students and dropouts - for one reason: It has a nursery.
"If I didn't have this day care I don't know who would be taking care of my daughter, how I would go to school, or what would happen to my life," she says.
For hundreds of student-parents in the sprawling New York City school system, the nurseries are fast becoming even more important than before: New federal welfare rules say that if they don't go to school, their cash payments, food stamps, and free medical care will be taken away.
There are 41 nurseries in the city's 201 public high schools, and they are bracing for an anticipated influx of returning ex-dropouts. The Board of Education says the nurseries have about 700 spaces for babies, while the number of parents prepping to return to school is estimated at more than 4,000.
The board spent $4.6 million last year building new nurseries, fixing others, and paying staff. Four more nurseries are slated to open this month, bringing the city's total to 45. Board spokesman J.D. LaRock says there are no immediate plans to fund more.
At Redirection's nursery, Mondays and Thursdays are Grandmothers' Day. The grannies gather the babies and toddlers around and read their favorite stories - "The Big Hungry Bear" and "Green Eggs and Ham."
"My son loves reading. He's learning here, too, as I'm learning," says student Shameka Collins, whose son, Marquis, already knows his ABCs, and can count past 10.
"When he gets home he says, 'Mommy, where's the books?' If tons more babies fill the nurseries, they'd all lose one of the best things about this program - the individual attention," says Ms. Collins.
The nurseries typically have 20 children and four or five teachers. Nursery teachers encourage students to show up for school every day, even if they're late. "These girls are trying really hard, and for some of them it's a major victory just to get here at any time," says Jeanell McRae, a Redirection nursery teacher. "We're very glad to have them here. You can't learn if you're not in school."