The Teen Parent School Program celebrates its 40 years of service

Located in downtown Waterville, the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers has been serving families in the community since its founding in 1899. Known for its nurturing environment, the Maine Children’s Home offers a variety of services dedicated to the betterment of families and children, one of which being the unique Teen Parent School Program.

Working in collaboration with the Waterville Alternative School, The Teen Parent School Program serves as an education program for high school teens who are managing pregnancy and parenthood. The program provides important lessons concerning parenting life, helping students learn their role and responsibilities as new parents. In addition, it provides academic courses equivalent to those typically offered in most school systems that are taught by five certified teachers on location and by visiting teachers from Waterville High School. Due to this overall excellent curriculum, all teens in the program are formally registered as Waterville High School students and will thus receive a Waterville diploma upon graduation.

For the current school year, the Teen Parent Program has around 40 students; 20 of which are Waterville Alternatives and the other 20 are Teen Parents. With such little numbers, the school provides smaller classes that foster a more intimate setting for each student. In addition, the individualized nature of the program allows it to receive students out of district, with some students hailing from Gardiner, Skowhegan, and Vassalboro.

The program’s numerous resources also provide reliable support, offering individual counseling, referrals, college and career support, and on-site childcare, all of which are free and available to students currently enrolled. “When there is a need that one of our students have, we are usually able to fill it,” explained Angie Woodhead, program director at the Teen Parent School. “We provide a significant amount of support to help them get to receiving their high school diploma.”

Students also receive free access to child necessities whenever they are available, such as diapers and baby wipes through the outside Diapers and Wipes Program, as well as items such as high chairs or baby clothes through donations.

“One of the most recent additions to the services we provide, is that we hired a case manager this year to work with our students and their various needs,” Woodhead said. “What she does is she helps our students with housing or financial resources, gets them connected with receiving food stamps, or even organizes their baby’s doctors appointments.”

“Our aim is to remove as many deterrents as possible and then to build on the strengths of each young parent,” the program states on its website. “Our goal is to help teen parents understand the concept of positive parenting, to support and assist them as they learn to deal with troublesome issues, and to provide a high quality and relevant education so they can acquire the knowledge and skills to move forward in a healthy lifestyle.”

Founded in 1974, the Teen Parent School Program was formed by teachers and staff from Waterville High School in response to several female students dropping out of school after getting pregnant. The faculty searched for a way in which the girls could still receive a quality education as well as additional childcare due to the many challenges they were facing. From here, the teachers and staff at Waterville High School began to work with the executive director of Maine Children’s Home at the time, leading to the creation of the Teen Parent School Program. Initially beginning very small, with around eight to ten students on a single-year program, the school later developed into a major service for the local community, expanding the length of the program to four years, as well as opening admission towards male teens who are also entering parenthood.

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the U.S. holds the highest rate of teen pregnancy and childbirth than any other developed country, with only 40 percent of those young mothers finishing high school. Furthermore, Maine is ranked 4th of all U.S. states for teen pregnancy yet the Teen Parent School Program stands as only one of two educational programs offered for teen parents in the state. Because of this needed system of support, around 15 students attend the program every year totalling to an estimated 1,000 students, mostly girls, graduating from the school since its origination.

Having just reached 40 years of service, the program is looking to reconnect with some of their many graduates in hopes of seeing how exactly the Teen Parent School Program impacted their lives. Whether the students went onto college, got a well-paying job, or became better parents, the program is trying to find alumni and see their personal growth after graduating, highlighting the value of such education alternatives in society. “The goal is to get them to a place in their lives where they have finished their education,” Woodhead said. “To a place where they have jobs and can raise their children without the stigma of poverty. Our goal is to jumpstart the course of their education as well as their lives.”

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