MENTORING TEENAGE MOMS
Your baby is crying. You dont have money for a baby-sitter, and there's no father to help out. To top it off, youre fifteen years old and running late for school.
Chances are, if you were in this situation, you wouldn't make it to school at all. Some 80 percent of teen mothers are unable to return to school after their babies are born, according to the New Jersey Chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. To make it easier for young parents to stay in school, UMDNJ - University Hospital established the Center for Family Partnerships, a mentoring program, in cooperation with two Newark high schools, Barringer and Central High School. The mentors, many of whom were teen mothers themselves, meet with students regularly to encourage them to stay in school and to help with personal problems. The program, directed by Cynthia Y. Paige, MD, assistant professor of Family Medicine at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), is in its first year at Barringer, and its second at Central.
Mary Rowson, Community Program Specialist, Department of Family Medicine, says that many of the teen mothers have self-esteem problems. The first thing I teach them is how to love themselves. A teen mother who loves herself can love and care for her child, she says.
The teen mothers also learn about parenting issues. Students meet regularly to learn about how to take care of themselves and their babies. Weve had guest speakers and workshops, including a course on CPR and a talk about AIDS and HIV in children, says Mary Jean Meravi, the teacher-coordinator of the parenting program at Barringer.
Between the two schools, there are 31 students in the program. Out of 19 high school seniors this year, only one dropped out. The others have graduated and are going on to college, the armed forces, work, or training programs. "The discipline and structure of the military help the girls get their lives back on track,Rowson says.
Recently, the teen mothers visited middle schools, speaking to some 200 seventh- and eighth-graders about the difficulties of being a parent and staying in school. Many of the teenage mothers now advocate abstinence as a way to prevent future pregnancies. The students learn that it's okay to wait, and put school first, says Rowson.
The Center also matches the teens with their mentors -professional women who meet with them regularly. Sixteen-year-old Khalia Sears, the mother of a three-year-old, meets with her mentor, Desiree Manning, a secretary for Family Medicine at NJMS, every day after school. Manning teaches Khalia job skills and gives her advice and support while Khalia helps with office work. Before she entered the program, Khalias grades werent the greatest, and her attendance was poor. But now she's doing extremely well in school. The one-on-one attention has greatly improved her life, Manning says.
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey