Alternative charter gives teen parents, homeless students support needed to graduate
- Across the United States, only 40% of teen mothers finish high school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). New Orleans' NET Charter High School aims to change that by giving pregnant and parenting students — as well as those struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and housing problems — the extra support they need to graduate, EdSurge reports.
- The alternative charter, which falls under the Orleans Parish School Board, serves about 300 students ages 15 to 21 and helps teen mothers complete their schooling through a homebound program, which mixes online learning with one-on-one teacher visits. And it's proven successful: The school has graduated more than 250 students so far, and in the 2015-16 school year, the annual graduation rate was 88%, according to NET data.
- Students, including 18-year-old mother of two Joy Nickerson, say smaller class sizes — which range from about five to 15 students — a flexible schedule, and a mix of in-person, online and blended learning help them stay on track. But it's clear that additional resources like child care programs, which the school is exploring, are also needed.
Thirty percent of the teenage girls who drop out of high school say it's because of pregnancy and parenthood, the NCSL says. A majority of teen mothers don't end up finishing high school, and fewer than 2% graduate college before they're 30. One takeaway is clear: Teen parents often don't get the support they need to stay in school.
Teen pregnancy, along with mental health issues, substance abuse and homelessness can often negatively affect a student's educational experience, and in many cases, that's due to a lack of support or resources to address the challenges they face. In some cases, education gets left behind because a student isn't able to stay connected to the school, keep up with assignments or make time for studying — especially if he or she is trying to hold a job, attend a rehabilitation program or care for an ill family member.
As Shane Colman, NET's operations director, told EdSurge, the ultimate goal of its program is that "students don't drop out because of this event that's happened to them." And in states like Louisiana, which has a teen pregnancy rate that ranks among the nation's highest, EdSurge notes that initiatives like NET's homebound program are especially necessary. He added that some states — including Louisiana — are forced to emphasize abstinence while not providing any contraceptives, both in compliance with state law.
School leaders want to see all students succeed, including those who deal with issues that could make it more difficult to graduate. In states where students have access to contraceptives, or that aren't legally mandated to stress abstinence in sexual education, ensuring teen pregnancy prevention measures are in place can go a long way. Educators can also advocate for federal funding for teen pregnancy prevention, as well as for resources similar to those at NET Charter High School that help these students reach graduation.
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