School helps teen moms help themselves, kids Stresses parental responsibility

September 21, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Alice Hunley may run a day care center for teen-age mothers at Meade High School in Fort Meade, but she makes it profoundly clear that the girls can't just drop off their children and leave them for the day.

Real life is not like that, the program's new director says, and she is not a baby sitter.

"In the real world, nobody is going to say that just because you have a baby, we will excuse you," Ms. Hunley said in an interview last week. "Everybody is going to expect that they tow the line. We have to educate the mothers. If we do anything less, we are setting them up to fail."

Her attitude may be tough, but Ms. Henley stresses that she will not change the structure of the program, which emphasizes education and requires the young mothers to attend a class on proper child rearing.

The young mothers also must spend their lunch period in the day care center feeding and playing with their children.

"This gives us an opportunity to see how the parents interact with their children," Ms. Hunley said, adding that critics doubted it would help because the young parents would be extra-careful knowing they were being watched.

Ms. Hunley said that has not been the case and cited a young mother last year, who no longer is in the program, who brought a piece of chicken and green beans to feed her 3-month-old baby.

"That was what she brought for lunch," Ms. Hunley said. "We were able to step in and say, 'That's not right,' and we educated her on how to change."

Ms. Hunley, 35, just graduated from Bowie State University with a degree in social work and lives in Severn. She takes over Meade's program from Nancy DeCandis, who moved to a new job in the YWCA, which runs the center.

The teen-infant program, the only one in Anne Arundel County schools, has enjoyed some success. Since it started in February 1990, 49 young mothers returned to high school and graduated. Eight did not.

"We've done so well," said Sue O'Connell, a teacher-specialist who helped design the program and teaches the child rearing class. "I'm so proud. We've got kids in college and in jobs."

This year, the program has added a full-time school nurse to train the parents and examine the children for disease.

YWCA officials said they hope to expand the program to other county schools -- they may enroll up to 18 students next semester at Meade -- but need a stable source of money.

The Meade program alone costs $104,000 a year. That money comes from county grants, fund-raisers and day care vouchers.

Many of the young mothers might have dropped out of school to take care of their children if not for the day care center.

"I didn't think I would like it," said Lawanda Walker, 17, who was a sophomore when she had her son, Lovell, two years ago. "If it wasn't for this, I don't think I would still be in school."

Lawanda is graduating in January and plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College to study computers. She started going to the center when Lovell was 8 weeks old.

The idea, Ms. Hunley said, is to place as much responsibility with the parents as possible while allowing them to attend classes. The course in child rearing is in addition to the normal course load, and the parents must give up their social time at school to be with their children.

"This is nothing compared to what they will experience when they get out," she said.

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