Center helps moms balance kids, education

Odenton facility is the county's third that offers day care and aims to keep teens in school

Education Beat

October 23, 2005|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Reva Coleman, 17, hadn't planned on having a baby, but it happened anyway. Now she's got 5-month-old Jeremyah to think about, and that means she's working nearly 40 hours a week at a local Rite-Aid to help support her young family.

But she hasn't given up on school. She has three classes to go before she can graduate from Meade Senior High School. She's on track to finish by January. She's even thinking about college.

Coleman is one of seven students taking classes at a new center for teen parents in Odenton, run by the county school system and the YWCA.

"I'm very proud of her," said one of Coleman's teachers, Damien Robinson. "When I first started working with her, college was the farthest thing from her mind."

The Odenton center is the program's third. Locations in Annapolis and Glen Burnie, run in cooperation with the county Department of Social Services, have been open for more than a year, said Colleen Childs, a teacher specialist with the Home/Hospital Teaching program of the county school system, which provides education for students who for medical or emotional reasons can't attend school.

The centers are for students who are no longer eligible for home or hospital instruction but don't have day care for their children. Coleman heard about the program through Robinson, who was her Home/Hospital teacher after she gave birth.

Childs said the goal of the program is to keep young mothers in school. The teen parenting centers provide on-site day care.

"They get their babies settled," Childs said, "and they take regular classes."

The Odenton center opened Sept. 19. The smallest of the three centers, it is already at its seven-student capacity, with a waiting list of one student, Childs said. (Annapolis serves eight students; Glen Burnie, 14.) There are two teachers at each site. Robinson, along with Valerie Humen, teaches at the Odenton center, which occupies a room in a YWCA suite in an office building.

At the Odenton center, the babies in the program share space with children of parents in other, nonschool-related YWCA programs. The space is colorful and clean, with lots of toys and plenty of attention from staff and volunteers.

Meanwhile, the moms are crammed into a classroom that is small and windowless. Desks face the wall, and a small table to one side is covered with scattered papers. "It's tight," Robinson said. But it's comfortable and cheerful. Above each desk is a little corkboard, decorated with photos of the children.

The lessons are a combination of lecture-style instruction and self-directed learning, Robinson said. The students also use a computer lab down the hall.

The mothers take regularly scheduled breaks to change diapers and play with their children.

On Thursday, the four students present that day were discussing Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Students in the program are still counted as enrolled in their regular school.

"We work with their guidance counselors" to make sure the students take the classes they need to graduate, Childs said. "We want the girls to go back and participate in graduation, if they desire," she said.

Lessons take place Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students are responsible for their own transportation.

Even though the room is small, Ebony Parker, 15, said she prefers the Odenton center to Meade Senior High School, where she went before she had Sha'Riayha, now 7 months old.

"We only have four hours of school, but the work is still hard," she said. She praised the teachers and said she plans to stay with the program until she graduates from high school.

Colleen Davis, 18, attended the Glen Burnie program after her son, Khalil, now 1, was born. Now she's at the Odenton center because it's closer, she said.

"Hopefully, this will be my last year, but right now I have to take one more class after this year."

Danielle Johnson, 16, attended Chesapeake High School before having Damyia, who is 4 months old.

All the girls said they hadn't planned to have children, and they all laughed when asked about the fathers of their children.

"I am the father," Davis said.

She said having Khalil has made her take school more seriously.

"When I think about my son, it just makes me want to do more," she said. She hopes to go to college, she said. Then, she wants to get a good job so she can afford a nice car and a house. But the most important goal, she said, is to "be the best mother I can be."

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