Pregnant Teens Aren't Disposable

Janelle Harris

Teen pregnancyIf you’re born Black, you’re pitted against challenges indeterminate. If you’re born Black and female, multiply those a few times. If you’re crazy enough to be Black, female, and knocked up as a teenager? You might as well figure out how you’re going to wear your hair under the little paper cap and rehearse asking folks if they want to supersize their order for an extra $1.99.

That hasn’t been the reality for girls at Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, though. Since it opened, it’s given its student body of teenage moms a new lease on education, parenting, and life. They haven’t been the only ones learning. An early childcare component has taught their little ones, too.

Sounds like a good school, right? Until a few hours ago, it was on the chopping block to be closed. Tomorrow. An 11th hour miracle will now allow it to remain open as a charter. But people are still questioning: why do teen moms need a school? 

In a city with an increasing teen pregnancy rate, CFA has been a necessity. Teachers and school administrators haven’t allowed the girls to scrape by in a “thank God she made it,” skin-of-the-teeth slide to graduation. They prep their students, 97 percent of whom are black, for college — and had an enviable rate of alumnae go on to higher education — all while providing childcare for the babies whose mamas are just barely past the point of being babies themselves.

Their success story has been built on taking adverse circumstances and using them as stepping stones, not ankle weights.

Back in April, Detroit Public Schools put CFA on a list of institutions slated to bite the dust because of budget cuts. Educating one student there costs a reported $12,619 against the average $7,600 across the citywide system, and a $327 million deficit has the powers that be clamoring to pinch pennies. The handed-down decision sparked protests, which led to the arrest of a teacher, a student, and a recent graduate who were carted off school grounds as they waged a sit-in when news of the impending closure dropped.

Those same women are facing up to 90 days in prison and $500 fines for fighting for the right to shake off all the disadvantages that come along with the stereotype of being a teenage mom from the ‘hood in Detroit. But it wasn’t for nothing: their activism raised attention and ultimately helped the school stay open. Cheers.

Funny how critics make like so many sistas are willfully living off public assistance but guess what, Detroit Public Schools? Ain’t much a 17-year-old black girl with no diploma and one or two little mouths to feed can do to make that money when childcare costs darn near as much as college tuition. That’s a set-up for a public assistance situation.

Not that I knock them. I too was a teen mom. I did the WIC thing and the welfare thing, both humiliating. I hated — hear? H-a-t-e-d — pulling that card out when it was time to pay. I felt like everybody was judging me as another statistic-confirming black chick souping and supping on the government’s dime, from the folks behind me in line to the cashiers who most of the time didn’t look like they were doing that much better than I was but were visibly put out by my poverty.

But one thing I had working in my favor was that I was getting an education. Struggling, hustling, scrambling, but I was finishing. That’s an advantage that I’m so relieved these girls will now have, too. And they should. Before the tide shifted and news of its survival was announced, I was afraid that without the resources afforded at Catherine Ferguson Academy, most of the girls would drop out of high school. Not for lack of desire to do better. But because without a sound support system to bolster them until they were able to take care of themselves, the easiest option would’ve been to quit.

Maybe it especially hits home for someone so close to the scenario of teen motherhood. I’m so thankful for my mom and grandmother who watched my baby while I was in class and professors who let me bring Skylar with me instead of racking up absences. When I read the updated news of CFA’s salvation, I cheered and clapped — confirming to my daughter that I am in fact crazy, though she should be used to it by now. But yay anyway! Long live the school.  

Is it a good idea to have special high schools for teenage girls who are pregnant or have children?

Image via Daquella manera/Flickr

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