Arlington officials say the move reflects a financial crunch in the growing school system but also a cultural shift. In today’s society, it’s no longer assumed that “teenage mothers should be embarrassed by their ‘situation’ and need to be isolated in a special place,” according to Murphy’s proposed budget.
It’s time to bring teen mothers “back home into the mainstream,” the proposal said.
Programs for teen mothers in Prince George’s County and the District are already housed in mainstream high schools. Fairfax County offers a separate program for teen moms in an alternative school.
The new Arlington location, a short bus ride from the Reed School, where the program is currently housed, has many advantages, officials say. There is easier access to a wide range of courses, including career and technical classes, and daily transportation to home high schools where the young mothers could take an art class or sing in a choir.
Day care, already partially at the Career Center, would be available on-site for everyone.
The move also offers efficiencies. The price tag for educating the teen parents is steep. Estimates range between $71,000 and $81,000 per pupil, depending on enrollment. In early March, there were 38 students working with six full-time teachers who often teach multiple subjects, sometimes in the same class period.
The students have access to a nurse, guidance counselor and other support staff. Merging with the other programs at the career center will allow the school system to cut about a dozen teaching and administrative jobs.
Stand-alone programs for teen mothers are shutting down across the country as budgets shrink, said Pat Paluzzi, the president and CEO of the Baltimore-based Healthy Teen Network.
The changes raise questions about how much support vulnerable students need to graduate. Paluzzi said there’s not one right model, but mainstream schools serving pregnant teens need to offer extra training to their staff and extra help if they want teen parents to persevere in school. Pregnancy is one of the top reasons that girls drop out.
When Karla Vasquez got pregnant at 15, she didn’t think she could finish school. But after three years at the teen parenting center, she is looking forward to graduating this spring and planning to enroll in Northern Virginia Community College.
She said the small setting was a comfort, and worried that future teen moms won’t have the same personal relationships with their teachers and “aren’t going to have the same support that we all have.”