Where kids with kids learn | PostIndependent.com

Where kids with kids learn

Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson W/ IV STORY Kara Fleming, 19, kisses her baby girl, Mikel, 4 1/2 months, during parent and children time at Yampah Mountain High School Friday.

The relaxed way the girls lounge on couches while reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” makes their classroom at Yampah Mountain High School feel more like a weekend slumber party than an institute for learning.”One thing we focus on is comfort,” said Leigh McGown, co-director of the Teen Parent Program at Yampah High. “School needs to be a place they want to be, not one more thing that stresses them out.”The teen parent program at Yampah High fuses good parenting skills with a good education, helping teenage mothers take care of the children while they earn a high school diploma.

The program recently earned accreditation from the National Association for Young Children, which is the nation’s leading organization for early childhood professionals.Oftentimes, mothers enter the program before having their babies. They go to class while their children are taken care of by Yampah staff.The Yampah daycare, which is right across the hall from the girls’ classroom, is divided into two sections and currently watches 19 children. Children stay in the daycare until they’re 312 or until their mothers graduate.The program has 26 students ranging from 13 to 19 years old, McGown said.”I came here because I want to get a high school diploma and not a GED,” said Veronica Hernandez, 18, who has been in the program since she was 15.

Hernandez started the program when she found out she was six months pregnant. Through the program, Hernandez learned how to take care of her new baby so that when her son was born, she had a better grasp on her expectations.”Some of these girls know more than adults in their 30s who are having a baby for the first time,” said Mandy Slingluff, one of the early childhood professionals for the program. “These girls are amazing.”While going to high school – a time when most girls worry about what name brand is embroidered on the tag of their shirt – these girls deal with midnight feedings, childcare and, in many cases, paying their own way.Maggie Loomis, 17, has a 21-month-old daughter, goes to school and works so she can help her parents with rent, food and car expenses.Loomis got pregnant when she was 14 but didn’t tell her parents about the pregnancy until she was 6-12 months pregnant.

Once she graduates, Loomis plans on moving to California so her daughter can get to know her grandparents. She will go to cosmetology school but she doesn’t want to be a stylist. Loomis sees cosmetology school as a way to pay her way through veterinarian school.Since the girls have a different lifestyle than many of their peers, they rely heavily on each other for moral and emotional support and feel comfortable discussing anything with their classmates. They agree that everyone in the program, teachers included, is more of an extended family than typical school friends.At the beginning of the day, the girls and their babies all play together in the daycare. This exercise allows the girls to watch their kids in social situations, which is good because it exposes them to different behaviors that their children exhibit, McGown said.

During the summer, when the girls are not in school, they start to get antsy and anxious to see one another.They talk about school, boys, dating and the stigmas they deal with as teen parents.At a recent field trip to Denver, a woman followed Amy Ross, 16, and her 17-month-old daughter around. Finally, Amy turned around and said, “Can I help you?””You can help yourself,” the woman replied.

The girls aren’t blind or stupid; in fact, they’re mature for their ages and eager to learn and they realize that people attach a stigma to teenage parents.”We’re not bad moms,” Hernandez said. “We’re better moms than some older people are. How old you are has nothing to do with what kind of mom you’ll be. As long as you love your kid what does it matter?”Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. 534ivogel@postindependent.com

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