By Casey Hans
The patter of little feet is an expected sound in a preschool setting, but at Ann Arbor’s Stone High School, a cluster of little ones can often be found in the media center, the gym or out on the playground.
Up to 16 infants and toddlers are cared for on site as part of the school’s licensed child care center – a program that allows teen parents to have on-site care for their children so that they can attend high school.
Lynne Richards is in her ninth year as the program’s supervisor. With the help of staff and some community volunteers, these youngsters have all the advantages of a licensed center. “We’re not only here for the babies, we’re here for the teens,” explained Richards.
Child care assistants include Dolores Houston, Tammy Irvine and Angela Blake, who have been involved with the program for six years and “are an integral part of the program,” Richards said. “The care, attention and support they give makes the program a success.”
Both moms and dads can use the center, but most of the students are moms, Richards said.
“The moms usually end of being our top students at the end of the year,” she explained. “The No. 1 priority is to continue their education. We want them to stay in school and know their children are taken care of and, hopefully, break the cycle” of teen parents dropping out.”
Like any other child care center, parents sign their children in and out daily and bring bottles and other needed items for their children. Children get developmental evaluations and staff works with gross and fine motor skills every day. Children get reading time, gym time and visits to the school’s library and, new this year, is a tech component, where children are introduced to the idea of computers and technology.
Jessica Alvarez, a junior, brought her child in one recent morning before heading to class. “It’s really good – I like it,” she said. “Anything that happens, I’m right down the hall.” Alvarez attended Ypsilanti and Huron high schools before finding about the child care program at Stone and enrolling there.
Richards said the teen parents pay a fee for the service, which teaches them responsibility and allows them to continue on with schooling and graduate. “They have to be in school, they have to be here. We keep a strict look at their attendance,” she stressed.
Teens enrolled at Stone have first priority at the center, then other students, such as those enrolled in the WAY Washtenaw county on-line high school program, can participate.
Student Lauren Douglas of Whitmore Lake is a WAY Washtenaw student. She uses the child care services part-time: when she comes to Stone to meet with her program mentor or do work in the computer lab. “It’s very nice. I like it a lot,” she said.
Two volunteer “grandmas” visit the class each day, where they help by holding, rocking and feeding babies. Volunteer Pauline Hardy, who lives in downtown Ann Arbor, has been coming for years and said she enjoys her time at Stone.
“If it wasn’t for the enjoyment, I wouldn’t get out of bed for it,” she said. “They’re really great and the kids are great. It’s fun to watch them develop into a toddler – they’re all different. I enjoy it to the utmost.”
Carol Moon is in her fourth year volunteering at Stone. She is also raising a teenage grandson who attends Huron High School, so this is just part of her busy life. “I think it’s wonderful. You see them grow up. We usually get to interact with the little ones who call us ‘grandma’,” she said.
Stone Principal Sheila Brown said the program is a unique one. “We have the good fortune at Stone High School to be able to help both the teen mothers and their children,” she said.
The program offers teens an opportunity to finish their high school education and also learn how to care for their children, Brown said. The moms get guidance and parenting skills through staff and community programs and the children are taught a variety of developmental, social and academic skills to prepare them for pre-school, she added.
Starting second semester, teen parents at Stone will be required to take a comprehensive parenting class. Brown said the class will have a structured curriculum that will build parenting skills. The class will be taught by Stone teacher Joanna Johnson with the help of child care supervisor Richards.
“This will be a win-win for both our teen parents and their little ones,” Brown added.
Stone senior Tamico Taliaferro is finishing high school this month. She has a two-year-old son and an infant daughter at the child care center. She said having her children at the center allowed her to finish her education and she plans to continue on at Washtenaw Community College to study nursing and psychology.
“They do a really good job – your kids get special care,” she said.
She said Stone offers her a smaller, controlled environment and that she’s doing better academically. “Here it’s all business,” she said. “At a bigger high school (she also attended Huron) there are a lot of distractions.”
Taliaferro said the toughest part for her was “having to grow up sooner than planned. Now it’s an 18-year thing,” she said.
What advice would she give other teens? “Babies are worth the wait,” she said. “I’d rather have been much more prepared for them.”
Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 734-994-2090.