At the small school, there’s flexibility for students who need to leave school to give birth or visit the doctor. The curriculum is often adapted in small ways to be relevant to the students, with sample grammar sentences about child rearing, science experiments involving genetics, or Spanish and English book clubs with books about teen moms.
“We are worried about what’s going to happen to our students,” said Betty Gordon, language arts teacher for the past 14 years. She said they were some of Arlington’s neediest and most vulnerable students. All are poor, some come from homes where they’ve experienced domestic violence. Several girls live in a homeless shelter. ”That’s all before the trauma of becoming a mom,” she said.
Gibbon said she didn’t know how the new school would be able to accommodate their varying needs or how the high school programs will handle younger students. The youngest mom at the teen parenting center was in fifth grade.
Gibbon’s proud of the teen parenting center’s academic track record, its 71 percent graduation rate and the fact that 100 percent of the students in 2012 passed the English standardized test last year.
On the same day that the staff at the parenting center received surplus letters, letting them know that their jobs were likely to disappear, a group of educators from Hagerstown, Md. was visiting the parenting center to see if they could use it as an example for their own program.
But Constance Skelton, assistant superintendent for instruction in Arlington County Public Schools, said they hope to maintain the small group feel at the larger school. The women will have meals together and a common room, where they can breast-feed and relax. She said that they will probably still have a counselor and a jobs coach.
Skelton also said there’s room for the teen moms to grow academically. Pass rates for the state math exam in 2012 were very low, and students now have limited access to advanced classes.
“I think the program is a great program. I don't want to take anything away from it,” she said. “But our feeling is that to take and isolate and only offer limited curricular choices to a vulnerable population is not in their best interest....It’s a 1970’s idea.”