SPECIAL REPORT: 'Classroom Help' for Teen Parents

By: Sherene Tagharobi Email
By: Sherene Tagharobi Email

"Mommy wasn't ready but I'm here," Sa-wisha Porter said to her three-month-old baby.

17 and pregnant: it was even harder than she imagined.

"I wasn't going to school, and when I did go, I would sleep in class, I was tired and sick all the time," she said.

That's when she transferred to Eastern High School's Advanced Path. It's an alternative go-at-your-own-pace program.

"I don't know how these kids do it," said Mike McDonald, lead teacher there.

He's used to seeing pregnant and parenting teens drop out.

"I don't know what options a lot of them would have if it comes down to finishing your education or taking care of your child," McDonald said.

There used to be alternative high schools all over Ingham County that actually provided child care, but one by one, they've shut their doors.

"The Lansing school district had a healthy program, there was a program in Leslie, there was a program in Haslett, Waverly schools, and throughout the years every single program has ended," said Jan Kimble, who used to head the Teen Parenting Network.

It was a network that helped teen parents finish school and prevent subsequent pregnancies until state funding disappeared.

"It's extraordinarily frustrating," said Kimble.

The good news is from 1989 to 2009, the teen pregnancy rate per thousand dropped from 80 to 40 in Ingham County. But in the face of all these cuts, can the downward trend keep up?

"2009 is when our funding was cut," said Kimble. "When you remove the supportive pieces then typically your numbers are going to start to climb."

Across town, the Expectant Parent Organization offers low-cost pre-natal classes to teens.

"It's information 17-year-old Marrissa Mask, a participant in the class, wishes she'd gotten earlier.

"To be honest with you if there was enough of this in school, I dont think i'd be pregnant right now," said Mask.

But grant money that made in-school sessions possible has become limited.

"All this stuff I've seen, I'd be scared out of my mind to even want to have sex," said Mask.

But according to the numbers most are far from scared. A 2009 survey says 65 percent of Michigan teens have sex by the time they're high school seniors. And 40 percent of them don't use condoms.

Sawisha tells her friends to wait.

"When you're stable, have a job, finish school and is doing something with your life," she said.

On the bright side, she now knows what she wants to do with hers.

I think I want to do what my nurse does, go around helping teens who are struggling and not able to get resources and stuff," Sa-wisha said.

If you're a pregnant or parenting teen looking for resources, a good place to start is your local county health department.

It can connect you with the right programs, and sometimes offer transportation or childcare help.


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