High School For San Diego’s Teen Moms Marks 20-Year Anniversary
Lindsay School has started a preschool this year for the teens' children
Teenage mothers have many challenges.
Two of the big ones are staying in school and giving their babies the care they need. San Diego’s Lindsay School is celebrating 20 years of helping teen moms finish high school. This year, the school also started giving the babies a good start on the educational ladder.
Itzel and Ashley, who didn’t want their last names used, are both 18 and graduating from the Lindsay School. Itzel wants to be a lawyer. She said she “likes defending people, and I don't like injustice.” Ashley hopes to become a school counselor. so she’s majoring in psychology.
Both of their faces light up when they talk about their children. Itzel’s baby girl is 9 months old, and Ashley loves to laugh about her 2-year-old son being a handful.
When teenagers have babies, often the first thing they do is drop out of school. According to a 2013 report from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, half of the young mothers don’t graduate from high school. “Their babies are at greater risk for abuse, neglect, and developmental delays,” the report said.
The young mothers also often come from abusive homes.
“A lot of them have been pushed to the brink of what humans might do just to take care of a child,” said Dawn Miller, a teacher at Lindsay School. “I think that if you heard any of the stories of any of the girls, you would be surprised that they are sitting at their desks acting like normal teenage students. The amount of bravery and resilience they exhibit to me is deeply inspirational.”
Lindsay School is a small three-room high school in downtown San Diego devoted to helping teenage mothers. It’s funded by the San Diego County Office of Education and has about 80 students.
The school began to offer classes and day care for its young mothers and children in 1994, when it had about 40 students. Student-mothers and their babies are in the same building, and the babies can be in class with the mothers.
It’s normal at Lindsay to hear a baby cry in the middle of a lecture on the U.S. Constitution.
Miller has seen hundreds of young mothers come through Lindsay School in her 15 years teaching there. The one thing that has not changed over the years, she said, “is that it’s still woman-centered caring for the girls.”
In the past decade, pregnancy rates among teens ages 15 to 17 have decreased from 25 per 1,000 to 15 per 1,000. Even so, Miller said the need for Lindsay School is growing.
“We have seen a boom, although the rates of teen pregnancy have leveled off,” Miller said. “There is a growth in our population because the need and resources that the girls need are not being met at the traditional schools.”
This year, all of Lindsay School’s graduates are going to continue to higher education. Some of them are part time, “but they are all going, mostly to City (College) and some of the other community colleges,” Miller said.
It’s been an evolution for the babies, too. The school has always offered day care, and that’s a huge help for mothers, but its essentially baby-sitting.
This year the school is partnering with the 100-year-old San Diego nonprofit Neighborhood House and offering preschool for the children. The program started about four weeks ago.
Neighborhood House’s Karissa Mei said the preschool uses a comprehensive early childhood educational technique called creative curriculum. It bases each child’s preschool day on individualized assessments of the child.
Now, not only is mom in school but so is her child.
Jose Villarreal, director at Lindsay School, said the partnership with Neighborhood House is part of a bigger plan to break a cycle of poverty and violence, “because most of our girls are dealing with those big topics.”
When Itzel arrived at Lindsay School, she was two years behind in her high school work but “ended up making everything up in a year.”
Ashley said that the school is a stigma-free place where she can build a future for herself and her child.
“Never judge.” Ashley said. “They just say, ‘OK, this is your situation. How are we going to get to the next step?’”
For Ashley and Itzel, the next step is San Diego City College.