In most cases, when a high school girl has a child and decides to raise the baby on her own, it has damaging consequences for mother, child and the state. The mother will frequently drop out of school. The child will not get the education and interaction needed to prepare him for success in school. And the state of Nebraska will support them both via public assistance programs for years.
The Sixpence site at Lincoln’s Bryan Community Focus Program gives high school mothers another path. A path to graduation. To college. To a child who is healthy, happy and school-ready. To a life of independence and self-sufficiency.
It may sound like a tall order, but Nebraska Children and Families Foundation board members had a chance to see the program in action last month. And what they saw were lives permanently changed for the better.
The Bryan Community Focus Program takes high school students from around Lincoln who have complicated life situations. Teenage parents are just one of the groups that Bryan accommodates. The Sixpence program within Bryan takes a three-part approach by providing an in-school childcare center for kids age birth to age 5, mandatory parenting classes, and a voluntary home visitation program.
“This program is unique because it allows young parents to complete their high school . . . when they’re starting out in a challenging situation,” said Holly Oman, a para-educator in the child care center.
Child care facility
Filled with books, laughter and age appropriate toys and activities, the child care center at Bryan is as warm and welcoming as a high-end daycare facility. Located in the school, teen parents drop their children off every day, and are welcome to come down and visit whenever they’d like.
“If she’s having a bad day or needs her mom, I can just come down,” said Payton Hayes, a 17-year-old senior at the center, of her daughter, Maddie. “This place gives me a lot of hope because they work with you so you’re able to continue to attend school.”
The kids themselves are cared for and educated by highly qualified para-educators.
Omah said, “We do a lot of prepping them to be ready for and successful in school.” She also discussed the center’s individualized approach. “We have lesson plans laid out for each individual child based on where they are in their development.”
“He’s developed quite a lot from being in this program,” said Kayla, an 18-year-old senior of her 7-month-old son. “The way the caretakers work with him is really great.”
As a condition for using the child care facility, teen parents must enroll in a child development class. In these classes, students learn infant and child care basics – diapering, washing, feeding and the like. They also learn how to deal with tantrums calmly, how to make sure children are hitting their developmental milestones, and how to interact with their kids in a way that is stimulating and age-appropriate.
Part of the parenting class includes twice-weekly, structured visits to the child care center, where the parents interact with their children with a number of activities. Each week, the parents take their kids to the school’s library for literacy time. “We really stress reading,” said Holly.
“Home visitation is a voluntary program, but students rarely decline,” said Monica Asher. The reason may be in the results. Home visitation offers a more individualized, one-on-one approach than the parenting class can. Staff can work directly with mom and baby, showing her how to engage, helping improve routines and interaction. “Relationship building in home visiting is so much easier,” said Monica. “They can communicate one-to-one about what’s going on and they have an extended amount of time to work together.”
The program boasts a high graduation rate among the teen parents who participate, and kindergarten readiness for the children in the center. Most of the moms we talked to were graduating in spring or fall, and had plans in place to attend Southeast Community College.