With Fairfax Program's Aid, 19-Year-Old Mom of 2 Balances Education, Parenting

Most teenaged girls with babies drop out of school. Not Monica Aramburu.
By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009

Monica Aramburu was in eighth grade at Lanier Middle School when she had her first child. Her senior year, she became a mother again.

Most teenage girls with babies drop out of school. But Aramburu transferred to Bryant Adult Alternative High School in Fairfax County, where she and her daughter and, later, her son could attend school together.

Last night, 5-year-old Priscilla Augment finished her school year with a pre-kindergarten graduation ceremony, at which she wore a fresh white sundress and a bow in her hair. Aramburu is weeks away from a high school diploma.

"I didn't think we would make it," said Aramburu, now 19, her pink JanSport backpack full of diapers, formula and a year's worth of algebra worksheets and quizzes organized in a Hannah Montana folder.

Some estimates put the dropout rate for teen mothers at 60 percent. Such mothers are far more likely to live in poverty and have daughters who become teen mothers.

"By coming here, she broke the cycle," said Elizabeth Link, who founded the Project Opportunity program in 1987. About 2,500 young women have come through the program in the Alexandria section of Fairfax, one of two in the county. Nearly 20 alumnae came to a retirement party for Link this spring, many of them teachers, nurses or graduate students, some with children in college.

"Just because you have a baby at a young age does not mean you cannot be successful" is Link's mantra.

But finding the right combination of services for a parenting teenager is difficult. The Bryant program offers flexible schedules, parenting classes, mentoring, transportation and job counseling before and after graduation. Key to Bryant's success, Link said, is a partnership with the on-campus day-care center run by United Community Ministries. The center reserves as many as a quarter of its spots for the children of the program's teen moms.

Teenage mothers are legally entitled to services at their neighborhood schools, but many choose to transfer to specialized programs where they will not feel stigmatized.

After 15 years of steady declines in teen pregnancy, demand for such programs could be on the rise. From 2005 to 2007, the teen birth rate climbed 5 percent, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Aramburu moved to Virginia from Peru with her mother when she was in third grade. A year later she met Mark Augment, the boy who would become the father of her children, at Daniels Run Elementary School in Fairfax. She remembers him first as the skinny boy with curly hair who made fun of her. Two years later, he passed her a note, through a friend, with his phone number on it.

When they started going out, "we were little kids," she said. They went to McDonald's after school, played flashlight tag and talked for hours on the phone.

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