"What can you do to stem the tide of teen pregnancy?" Jacquelyn Wideman asks from New York City, where the rate is at least 12 percent higher than the national average.
"Get them engaged," she says, answering her own question.
To do this, she proposes New Directions, a proposed charter school for Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The idea behind it is to get teenage mothers and fathers dealing with their new responsibilities in "a motivational, supportive environment," Wideman, a nonprofit consultant on the planning team, explains. "The proposed charter high school seeks to give them the environment, the area, the access to continue their education."
New Directions is the dream of a group of New Yorkers, many of whom are associated with the Faith Assemblies of God Church in Brooklyn. According to the school's working mission: it would "provide an environment that is non-judgmental, encourages academic growth and excellence, develops self-confidence and worth and promotes critical thinking skills that will open the door for positive life choices."
How exactly does a school that serves teen parents "stem the tide of teen pregnancy"? For one, it's not accommodating the teenagers. It's challenging and equipping them to meet the difficulties of their new life as parents. "They see this is very hard. That may prevent them from a repeat pregnancy," Wideman explains. The engagement strategy is quite practical: "Keep them busy, so they're not motivated to have a second child."
The school's curriculum would avoid busy work. Wideman stresses excellence, with stringent class requirements and a focus on the graduation rate. Helping at-risk students end up college-bound is not an easy task, but with online schools and other options, New Directions would help these too-young parents map out their options. Wideman tells me that her organization wants "to get students educated, to assist them to in completing their educations, providing employment opportunities, and helping them succeed."
In 2007, the last four public high schools for pregnant teenagers closed in New York City. Wideman believes the reasons they failed were a lack of vigilance in covering core subject areas, failure to prepare students for key state exams, and lack of follow-through when a student didn't show up. Attendance was low. The New Directions planning team wants to make sure that theirs is one place that reaches out and holds enrolled students accountable.
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