Helping young moms ‘figure it out’
January 19, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoGLENWOOD SPRINGS When you’re a mom … you figure it out. At least, that’s the idea behind Yampah Mountain High School’s Teen Parent Program.In a few more minutes it will be lunchtime. Wendy Sanchez stops working on a placement test for Colorado Mountain College and walks across the hall to play with her 20-month-old son, Alejandro.The 18-year-old must put the future on hold to spend time in the present.Her boy is writhing gleefully around on his back in a cushy blue chair in the toddler nursery room at the high school. She pounces. They play in a cavelike area underneath a wooden loft structure. It’s like an indoor miniature playground, complete with its own slide and colorful objects and toys everywhere.On the other side of the nursery, a high-spirited boy named Daniel shows off goldfish in a tank and then starts dancing underneath a blue construction-paper fish that dangles from the ceiling like a preschool version of a disco ball.Wendy had Alejandro at the age of 16 with her boyfriend, Jimmy. She’s still with him, and she has her parents around. Others aren’t so lucky, Teen Parent Program director Leigh McGown said. In 11 years, McGown has seen many kids who’ve been through the wringer before becoming teen parents. The program is meant to help them through high school, show them positive options and teach them about parenting and accessing community resources.
“The idea really is for them to be self-sufficient,” McGown said.Wendy and Jimmy both dropped out of Roaring Fork High School after the baby and ended up taking classes at Yampah Mountain.”It wasn’t something that we were planning,” Wendy said. “It was a shocker for everybody … at first I was thinking that everything was over. That I was just going to be working some sucky job the rest of my life, stuck.” On a typical day, Wendy brings Alejandro to school shortly after 9 and feeds him. With the help of two teachers, a counselor, a community resource manager, five early-childhood teachers and a visiting nurse, she and about 34 other teen parents take care of their infants and toddlers while earning high school credits. There are three teen fathers in the program. The rest are mothers.The teen parent program is one of three segments of Yampah Mountain. The school also has an alternative high school program and a special needs program for kids who have not been successful at other high schools. In November, the teen parent nurseries received a four-star rating, the highest available, from Qualistar Early Learning, a statewide nonprofit that aims to improve early childhood education.The teen parent program is not just a day-care center. The idea is for the mothers to have lots of contact with their kids throughout the day.
“They don’t just drop them off,” McGown said. “The idea is for them to be their babies’ first teachers.” Teen pregnancy rates in Garfield County aren’t increasing, but enrollment in the program is, she added.”I think more kids are deciding to finish high school,” she said. “Teen parents in the nation generally drop out of high school.”Parenting class met Thursday morning. Mothers watched a video about child development directly across from the two nursery rooms. The room has couches around a table, computers, bookshelves and a guitar hanging on the wall.They talk a lot, the mothers say, and exchange ideas about how to handle kids. Each one has vowed not to have additional children while completing high school.”I’d probably go crazy if I had another one,” Wendy said.
There’s an infant nursery for kids a year old or younger, and a toddler nursery for 1- to 3-year-olds. In addition to helping mothers make it through high school, they act as learning laboratories for the science – or art – of raising a baby. Situations like someone throwing food turn into concrete examples of what quality child care means, McGown said.Consistency, patience and proper nutrition are big, the mothers say. Be firm, but no spanking or yelling.Wendy is not sure what she’ll do for a career. “I have no doubt she’ll do great things for her and her baby,” McGown said.Wendy’s juggling ideas about architecture, nursing and the culinary arts. She is sure she wants to go to college. But thinking about the future isn’t quite the same as before.”You can’t just think about yourself,” Wendy said. “You’re a family now.”