Restoring Paquin

February 11, 2005

IT WAS ONE of the first schools in the nation to provide a special place for teenagers who were pregnant or who had already given birth. It has succeeded in keeping these young women in school through a combination of small classes, close personal attention, focus on studies and day care for their babies. Now some of the special qualities of the Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High School are on the chopping block because of budget cuts imposed by the Baltimore school system. Consequently, a 17-year-old pregnant senior who came to Paquin in January looking to take a science class that she needed for graduation, to take one example, was one of about a dozen students the school has had to turn away.

This should be intolerable for the city's only school dedicated to students from sixth to 12th grade who are pregnant or have recently given birth. While it's regrettable that too many Baltimore public schools have suffered as the system continues to make up for the devastating $58 million deficit, it can also be argued that Paquin students are already more vulnerable and, as a result, the consequences of severe cuts are more dire for them.

Started nearly 40 years ago, the Paquin school has been a pioneer in recognizing that the prospects for teenage mothers and their babies improve significantly if the mothers can at least finish high school. With average attendance of about 200 and top enrollment of 500, Paquin allows teens to continue their education while pregnant and while adjusting to a newborn or the challenges of raising a child. The school offers academic classes, including math, science, English and social studies; lessons in child development and parenting; on-site health services; and after-school programs. It also provides infant care and pre-kindergarten classes for the students' children. Many of the students return to their home schools to graduate, going on to community college and jobs.

But because of cuts that took effect last July and November, the school has lost more than half of its formerly 48-member staff, including some 16 teachers, eight paraprofessionals and 10 administrative people. One social studies or science teacher now may have to teach five different grades. Students who need or wish to take specific courses, particularly for graduation, have been sent elsewhere. Other students have missed weeks of school while trying to make alternative child care arrangements. And the staff reductions have prevented teachers from tracking down or reaching out to truants.

Next week, City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Bernard C. "Jack" Young will present a resolution of support for Paquin that calls on the school system to restore Paquin's staff so that it can fulfill its mission. The vote of the council and the school board should be "aye."

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