Teen pregnancy can spell disaster for students who don’t have support.
Out of every 10 teenage girls in the U.S. who give birth, seven drop out of school, according to recent statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union.
But in Clovis Unified, a team of dedicated staff at the district’s Youth Parent Program work diligently to combat such statistics.
“[Our program] is a support system to help these kids graduate high school,” said program nurse Priscilla Winden. “That is our ultimate goal, and we also want them to be the best parents they can be.”
They do that by providing parenting classes, social services and free childcare at Gateway and Clovis high schools. The program serves students from all over the district — teen dads included.
Enrollees are encouraged to continue attending their home high school, said Lanette Delk, YPP site supervisor at Gateway High School.
“We can get bus transportation for them if needed and they can bring their babies to either Clovis High or Gateway,” she said.
Graduation rates among pregnant and parenting teens who remain enrolled in Clovis Unified’s YPP are sky high — about 98 percent — and some go on to succeed in college, Delk said.
“Don’t give up,” said nurse Winden. “We feel like we’re cheerleaders for this kids — and this is kind of a rally to encourage them and keep them focused on their goals.”
That rally was the 31st annual Fresno County Teen Parent Conference held Feb. 22 at Doubletree by Hilton in downtown Fresno. Ten teen moms and one teen father from Clovis Unified joined about 400 other teen parents from around the county for a full day of workshops designed to help them plan their future and focus on their children’s health and well-being.
For Buchanan High School senior Tyrique Cox, the conference was familiar. He attended two years ago, at age 16, while his son’s mother was pregnant.
“I was new. I didn’t know anything. I just came to soak it in. It was a beginning step to fatherhood,” said Cox, whose son will turn 2 in April.
Due to a legal situation, Cox said, he hasn’t seen his son since he was a month old.
Cox turned to Clovis Unified’s Youth Parent Program for its resources and group discussions.
“It mostly was an emotional comfort,” he said. “There was a lot of stress on my plate. There’s other members that I got close with. It’s really about that bond.”
This year, he returned to the Teen Parent Conference with a new focus: obtaining visitation and/or custody of his son. He sat in on a session about the importance of a child’s father being in their life.
“Kids usually get higher grades when both their parents are involved; suicide rates are lower when their father is in their life,” he said, describing what he learned. “It gave me a broader picture of ‘I really need to get this done’ and get in my son’s life.”
He also headed to a discussion on discipline and development.
“My son is going to be 2 and that’s when the ‘terrible twos’ come, so I want to learn to parent the right way,” Cox said.
A health and resource fair was also available to the students, with dozens of agencies offering information on everything from child safety and early literacy to birth control and child support.
Angelina Gomez, a senior at Clovis High School, was focused on college options and filing for child support. Just a day prior, she said, she was granted full custody of her 18-month-old son, Dominic, when his father didn’t show up to court for the hearing.
“I want to learn more about getting the child support done because that’s basically all I still need,” she said.
Gomez found out she was pregnant on her 16th birthday. School nurses referred her to Nurse Winden of the district’s Youth Parent Program, but she didn’t officially enroll in the program until after Dominic was born.
When I think about Dominic, I think of having a better life for him and doing anything that I can for him to make his life better, so that he’s not like I was. I don’t want him to be a teen dad.
Angelina Gomez, Clovis High School senior who became a mother at age 16
YPP staff keep her on track, ensuring she keeps up with Dominic’s vaccinations and her own classwork. Finding time for homework is her biggest struggle as a teen parent, Gomez said.
When I’m at home I’m taking care of him,” she said. “I’ll ask my mom or my sisters to watch him a little bit so I can get my homework done, or I’ll have to stay after school for a little bit or just do all my homework in class. That part makes me feel rushed and like I can’t do anything.”
Gomez smiled in amusement as she listed the perks of being a pregnant student — “unlimited bathroom breaks and I got to eat in class” — but when she spoke about the effect Dominic has had on her, her sincerity was palpable.
“If it wasn’t for him I would’ve dropped out a long time ago,” she said.
Gomez deals with anger management, she said, and nearly got into a fight at school last year.
“But the only thing that could go through my head was my son,” she explained. “I thought ‘I can’t do this because I might get him taken away from me.’ I’ve got to be responsible. I’ve got to have my priorities straight.”
She’s preparing her college applications and reading up on scholarships and grants for single mothers. Gomez hopes to study criminal justice and become a police officer.
“When I think about Dominic, I think of having a better life for him and doing anything that I can for him to make his life better, so that he’s not like I was,” she said. “I don’t want him to be a teen dad.”
This is a common sentiment among teen parents, Delk said.
“You think that having a baby during high school is the worst that can happen, but for some of our kids it’s been a game changer,” she said.
“It’s helped give them direction and purpose,” explained Denise Sandifer, Healthy Start coordinator at Gateway High School.
The U.S. teen birth rate is at an all-time low — and YPP participants and staff want that number to continue on its downward trend.
The day after the conference, the teen parents were trained in public speaking and began to prepare presentations about the struggles of teen parenthood. Next month, students will speak to freshman students in health classes at Clovis East High School, Sandifer said.
“We’re teaching them to be a voice and we’re teaching them to be able to talk about their positions and share their stories. It’s healthy,” she said. “It’s healthy for those kids that are listening too.”