Baltimore Co.'s Kenwood High School to offer day care Program designed to help teen mothers

December 16, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer Staff writers Laura Lippman and Mark Bomster contributed to this article.

Kenwood High School wants to keep teen-age mothers from dropping out -- by caring for their babies.

When the school's new day care center opens in January, it will be the first of its kind in Baltimore County -- and officials hope it will be a national model for dealing with the myriad problems of teen-age motherhood.

The center will be able to care for as many as 12 children up to 2 years old. The babies will get medical attention, and their young mothers will learn how to care for them and feed them. They'll also be offered summer employment.

The center is a joint effort by Towson State University, the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, Franklin Square Hospital and other county agencies. The university received $90,000 in federal child care funds to get the center and its programs started. The child care will be paid for through Department of Social Services subsidies.

"Our real job here is to keep the moms going to school or working," said Jeanne Page, the executive director of Open Door of Maryland Inc., which will operate the center. Open Door operates child care centers, mostly for school-age children, throughout the area.

The mothers will be required to spend their lunch hours at the center as well as one class period a week in a parenting course. Frances Bond, associate dean of education at Towson State and creator of a cable-television series on good parenting, is in charge of the parenting course.

Doctors from the staff of Franklin Square Hospital will provide regular check-ups for the infants.

Although the idea of school-based day care isn't new, such centers are still relatively rare. But they're getting more attention.

"As there is more discussion around community schools, it makes sense," said Shirley Marcus, deputy director of the Child Welfare League of America and Baltimore's former director of social services.

In Baltimore, which has one of the nation's highest teen-age pregnancy rates, the Laurence G. Paquin school has long provided programs for pregnant teen-agers and new mothers. Several day care centers sprang up at other city high schools during the 1980s, but all have closed.

State education officials said they were aware of only one other such program in Maryland, at Northwestern High School in Prince George's County. That program began in 1987.

In Baltimore County, the organizers of the Kenwood project think the people behind it will make it a success. "It's unique in that it's a collaborative effort" by educators, social service agencies, higher education institutions and business, Dr. Bond said.

hTC At Kenwood, located in a working class area between Essex and Middle River, about 34 students have babies each school year, according to Principal Harold Hatton. It's the highest pregnancy rate in the county.

In 1989, the last year for which figures are available, there were 233 children born to mothers 17 or younger countywide.

"About nine out of 10 of those mothers didn't return to school because they had no one to take care of their children," Mr. Hatton said.

Now, "we have people who are waiting in line" for the center, he said. It will open late next month in a classroom and a faculty room that are being combined and renovated.

Within two months of opening, the center expects to have seven babies in its care, Ms. Page said. By next September, it probably will be full.

School officials will choose the students who can use the center.

"We intend to accept mothers who have . . . a good academic likelihood of graduating," Ms. Page said. The children of male students can also attend. "We would accept any baby of a Kenwood high school student for which parenthood is threatening high school graduation," she said.

Because of its high pregnancy rate, as well as higher-than-average drop-out and absentee rates, Kenwood has been identified as one of about 100 troubled schools in the state where students are most at-risk of not graduating.

Nearly 5.5 percent of Kenwood's 1,200 students dropped out during the 1991-92 school year, down from 7.2 percent the year before, according to the latest report from the Maryland School Performance Program. The county's average dropout rate is 3 percent.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Baltimore County government began talking with officials from Kenwood last spring.

Out of those talks, the child care project grew as a way to address the related problems of teen pregnancy, poor parenting, lack of education and employment possibilities. In addition to spearheading the child care center and related services, the chamber will ask its women members to be mentors to the young mothers and to employ them during the summer.

The Kenwood center will continue to provide summer child care so that the teen parents can work, Ms. Page said. "We just think it's a program that meets the needs of our kids," Mr. Hatton said.

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