Who cares about Bristol’s teen mothers? Linda Rich, director of the Young Parents Program, does.
With Rich’s help, pregnant teens who want to continue their education can do so in a place where they can also learn how to care for their new baby.
For up to two semesters, girls in the program take two hours of class each day at the Family Center for Girls and Boys.
The classes teach only the basics of what students would learn in regular school, with an extra parenting course.
Girls involved in the Young Parents Program say they like being able to be around their babies, but a few said the classes are either too tough or not challenging enough.
Kelly Maghini, a senior with plans for college, said she found the classes too easy.
A senior year course schedule might include geometry, but girls in the program get basic math classes.
“If they’re in honors English, they’re not going to get honors English here,” Rich said.
The idea, Rich said, is for teens to keep up with their classes so they can get a diploma.
“It’s a time for them to not fall behind in courses they need to graduate,” said Rich.
Through girls get credit toward graduation, those who need advanced courses, electives or special classes for college can’t get them in the program.
Yet credits pay off. In 1992, all four seniors in the program graduated and two of them went on to college.
There are now 18 girls, ages 13 to 18, in the program, said Rich.
The girls said the support groups are really important. In the sessions, the young mothers discuss their fears and problems, and get encouragement, they said.
There is a group for the young fathers on Tuesdays, Rich said. The boys can also go down to the Family Center to visit their babies during school on Fridays, she said.
Rich said the program also offers services to young mothers, including Healthy Start and WIC, state programs that offer free nutrition and health care.
When the girls are ready to go back to high school, the day care center at the school is an advantage, according to Tom Foote, administrator at Bristol Central High School, because the young mothers get to spend lunch and study periods with their kids.
Patti Kalat, former long-time director of the Young Parents Program, said it helps erase the stigma of teen mothers.
Rich agreed, saying the program gives the teens a chance to complete two goals: to finish their education and have a healthy baby.
Rose Mamie Kowalchuk is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.