Another role for teen mom

Dedication: Acting in the city arts school's spring show is just another commitment that Victoria Roberts successfully undertakes.

April 29, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Onstage, the teen-ager plays girlish, chatty Cherie in Chalk, the spring school drama that premiered yesterday. Offstage, Victoria Roberts has a more complex, challenging role -- senior at the Baltimore School for the Arts and mother of an infant daughter.

"I'm mature for my age, but the responsibility is huge and even more than I expected," says Victoria, 18. "When I'm at school, I try not to think about my other life at home."

To make it work, virtually every minute of every school day is carefully choreographed.

While other girls her age can linger, braiding their hair or debating what to wear, Victoria rises with the sun to dress, first herself and then her baby, Tamyah. In schoolgirl mode, she races out the door in Northeast Baltimore to catch the downtown bus to school by 7:35 a.m. -- with a pack of M&Ms for breakfast.

The day is packed with classes in such subjects as English, science and history, followed by an intensive three-hour after-school rehearsal to prepare for yesterday's opening performance.

Evenings are a study in divided duties. Victoria plays with Tamyah before preparing a bottle of formula and putting the baby to bed by 8 p.m. Then she faces a pile of homework that's usually toughest on Mondays, when the week's assignments are handed out.

While her peers have hours to exchange computer instant messages, Victoria saves just a speck of time for the telephone before 10 p.m. Then she goes to sleep, her clothes laid out for the next day.

Victoria's skillful daily juggling act -- parent, student and actress at the city's premier performing arts high school -- earn praise from Baltimore officials usually distressed by the plight of teen-age mothers.

"Dropping out [of school] is unbelievably common. Over 50 percent of teen-age mothers do that," says Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner. "It's the typical story of a teen mom in Baltimore. In fact, [giving birth] is the leading cause of dropping out for girls."

More than 2,000 teen-age mothers give birth in the city each year, and many quit school at age 15 or 16, Beilenson says. After declining in the 1990s, the rate has begun increasing in recent years.

Good fortune

Victoria recognizes good fortune has something to do with her success.

Last fall, after Victoria's live-in relationship with Tamyah's father ended, mother and daughter were taken in by the family of her best friend at school, Adena Goode, 17.

Adena says the decision wasn't difficult. "We have space," Adena says she told Victoria. "We all love you."

Donald Hicken, a theater teacher at the school and director of Chalk, says he has never seen that kind of generosity in his 24 years there. "Adena's mom deserves a citation," he says.

Adena's mother, Valencia Jackson, a 44-year-old mother of four, treats Victoria and Tamyah like family members. She runs a day care on the ground floor of her rowhouse, where Tamyah spends her days. Her husband, Toby, is an airplane mechanic.

"It's been a joy having them," Jackson says. She holds Tamyah with expert hands in her living room and playfully tells Victoria and Adena not to "starve my baby." She is incredulous when asked whether she charges Victoria for room and board. "No, she's my child!" she says.

College aspirations

Beilenson says Victoria's situation -- in a stable home and a rich school environment that trains students specializing in theater, classical music, dance and fine arts -- makes her one of the luckier teen-age mothers in Baltimore, especially if she goes to college in the fall.

Victoria's plans for next year are not set. While others are comparing acceptance letters this month from such schools as Boston University and New York University, Victoria -- who says she has maintained a "B" average this year -- is not certain where she will go because she took her college entrance exams late. Her safety school is Howard Community College.

Past obstacles

Victoria seems unfazed by future obstacles, which may be because she has weathered more than most teens -- the death of her father when she was 15, family financial troubles that led to losing their house and a break-up with Tamyah's father.

Victoria -- who turned 18 this month -- says she remains in close contact with her mother and sister, who have government catering jobs. But she decided she had to count on herself soon after the death of her father, McKinley Roberts.

When she was a small child, Victoria and her father spent endless hours together in his long-haul truck, with no other company other than his candy and her crayons. "Every summer, I'd pack up and be gone with my dad to go on the road," Victoria says. "I've been to every state in the [continental] country except Maine."

After the loss of her father, Victoria became involved with a man several years older.

Faced with pregnancy in her junior year, Victoria told the theater ensemble -- a group of 15 actresses and actors who keep close tabs on each other -- that she was going to keep the baby.

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