Special schools for pregnant girls?
An Idaho school scrambles for funding, saying it helps more teen moms graduate.
Soon after getting pregnant, high school sophomore Alicia Mattocks worried that bullies might purposely slam her into a locker and that a teacher's rules wouldn't allow frequent bathroom runs.Skip to next paragraph
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But it was the thought of not having to go to school quite so early, when she felt her worst, that pushed her to transfer to the Marian Pritchett School, an alternative public school in Boise for pregnant and parenting students. That decision, she says, saved her from dropping out.
A senior now, she plasters her binders with photos of her son, Ryder. This June, she'll mark another milestone: On her head will be a tasseled square cap.
Pritchett school, however, faces a funding shortfall because state grants that fund it have dried up. Separate schools for pregnant teens have dwindled in recent years because of concern for educational equality, budget constraints, and changing social mores.
But with one-third of all girls who drop out citing motherhood as a reason for leaving, these specialty schools from a bygone era may yet hold some lessons about how to keep kids in school. "The support for these specialized programs is critical in that they provide models of possibility in what can be done in school systems," says Wendy Luttrell, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Such alternative schools have been declining since the early 1990s, she says, as the idea of "mainstreaming" pregnant girls gained hold. Which approach is better depends often on the services available to girls in a particular region. So when New York City closed its last four "P-Schools" for pregnant teens last year, Dr. Luttrell supported the move. The city had high levels of services, and research showed that the P-Schools gave the girls an inferior education. But she opposed a similar move in North Carolina years earlier because of the limited access to services there.
At Pritchett, the funding shortfall means that principal Deborah Hedden-Nicely may lose full-time social worker Rhonda Murray, who handles many of the girls' basic needs – day care, government aid, even relationship advice – so the faculty can focus on quadratic equations, Shakespeare, and standardized tests.
Alicia credits Ms. Murray with getting her food stamps and Medicaid when she had nearly given up. "She actually goes directly down there and hands [the forms] to them. I've had so many applications supposedly lost, or I didn't fill it out right or something. So she's basically there to be my supporter," says Alicia.
The school offers day care and a baby-supply store. Mothers can nurse their babies at the back of classrooms. The school's size – just 45 students – allows the girls to get a lot of attention. Classes start after 9 a.m., and extracurricular activities are focused on skills such as business, parenting, and family law.
Above all, the school drills the value of a diploma. Incoming students are snapped wearing a cap and gown. Their photos hang in the hallway as a visual goal.