Kimberly, a young D.C. resident, gave birth to her first child at the age of 15. By the age of 18, she had dropped out of school for the second time and was pregnant with her second child. In situations such as this, the teen-age mother usually stays out of school and ends up on welfare. But this is a story with a happy ending. In this case, the teen-age mother went back to school, graduated and is now headed for college.
Kimberly was recently honored as the valedictorian of the D.C. public school system's School to Aide Youth (STAY), a program for former dropouts. She has received a full, four-year scholarship to the University of the District of Columbia and plans to become an accountant.
Her mother, who had raised six children, deserves some of the credit. She told Kimberly that she expected more from her only daughter and encouraged her to get her high school diploma and go on to college. A nursery at STAY took care of her youngest child while Kimberly attended classes from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night. Her grandmother agreed to take care of Kimberly's older son. A teen-age friend at STAY called Kimberly every day to goad her into going to school. Staff members at STAY did everything from guiding her to a job as a clerk in the postal service to driving her to UDC and encouraging her to apply. When she found out that she was her school's valedictorian, Kimberly said it was "the highest feeling in the world."
Roughly 1,900 children are born to teen-age mothers in the District every year. That is one of the highest rates in the nation. The city also continues to have one of the highest rates of infant mortality. It takes such consistent and wide-ranging support from family members, friends, the community and school officials to help a teen-age mother cope and realizethere are admirable goals that are still very attainable.
Teen-age girls like this one have also suffered from the fact that few programs deal with the prevention of teen-age pregnancies. Even fewer address the responsibilities of males in preventing pregnancies, said Joyce Ladner, head of Mayor Marion Barry's blue- ribbon panel on teen-age pregnancies.
Programs in some cities use school-based clinics that offer information on contraceptives and counseling. In the District, there is a pilot program called Youth Awareness in selected schools that tries to help youths make intelligent decisions. A local group named Concerned Black Men conducts meetings with young men to convince them that they have as much responsibility as their partners in preventing pregnancies. Prevention is the preferable alternative, but cases involving young women such as Kimberly show that the right amount of inspiration and support can truly make a difference.