NYC to close schools for pregnant teens

Kyasia Davis, a student at the Martha Neilson School, with her son, Tristan.

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TESS VIGELAND: On the show yesterday we talked to sports commentator Diana Nyad about this weekend's 35th anniversary of Title IX. Well, athletes certainly weren't the only beneficiaries of that law. Back in the 1960s, New York City was one of many school districts across the country to create a system of special pregnancy schools. Temporary, alternative programs for teenagers who got pregnant.

Title IX made them legal. But this year, New York City is shutting them down, saying they're not serving their intended purpose. School systems nationwide are coming to the same conclusion. Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more.


Alisa Roth: Kyasia Davis was in 10th grade and already behind academically when she found out she was pregnant. Her neighborhood high school suggested she transfer to Martha Neilson High, a pregnancy school in the Bronx.

Her son, Tristan, is now five months old.

Davis says she loved the so-called p-school's curriculum for new mothers-to-be.

Kyasia Davis: We had parenting classes and in the parenting classes it teaches you everything step by step by step. And now they were teaching us how to make quilts and pillows and stuff like that for our babies. Every lunch period, they have something and it's kind of like a workshop and they talk about rashes and stuff like that. So every day it's something that they're teaching you that you eventually go through with your baby.

She says did better there academically, too, than she had in her old school.

DAVIS: It was challenging, but it wasn't that bad because I had a stronger focus. It's like in regular high school I wasn't as focused so it was kind of like, "Oh, this is boring." But in p-schools, it's like, it's not many kids in your class, so it's hard for you not to understand what's going on.

Other students I spoke to told a different story about the pregnancy schools: Class periods spent watching cartoons because there were no subsitute teachers. A whole year without math or English classes, because there was no one to teach those subjects. Good students were essentially encouraged to coast or simply couldn't get the academic credits they needed.

New York's public schools have about 7,000 students who are pregnant or have children of their own. Only around 300 attend the p-schools. The city thinks the p-schools have failed to help these students keep up with their peers.

Because of privacy issues, the city doesn't track the dropout rates of pregnant students as a group. But attendance levels at the p-schools are appalling, roughly half that of the system as a whole. And fewer than half of p-school students go back to mainstream schools after their babies are born.

Benita Miller is an attorney who directs the Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective. A not-for-profit that offers classes and other support for teen moms. She thinks the p-schools have lost their original academic focus. Instead, they've turned into warehouses for pregnant trouble-makers.

Benita MILLER: The very real consequences were that young women who had gaps in their education did not feel inspired or motivated to stay connected to school after they had their children.

Miller's pleased to p-schools go. But she's worried the alternatives aren't meeting the needs of these young mothers. That's certainly the case for Kyasia Davis. Now 18, she and Tristan are living with her mother. Davis plans to get her high school diploma. And wants to go on to college to get a degree in social work.

But she doesn't know how she's going to make that happen.

DAVIS: I have no idea. I didn't have enough time to decide what I was going to do. Because I was planning to actually go back to Martha Nielson, now that Martha Nielson is supposed to be closing, I don't know where I'm going to go. I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know anything.

Davis could still make it. I met girls who, despite the odds, did go back to regular high schools and have gone on to college. Today there are free daycare centers in 40 public schools in New York City. And advocates like the Young Mothers Collective are working to make that childcare more accessible and more convenient for new parents.

Ann Cook is principal of the Urban Academy. It's a small alternative public high school, which has one of those daycares onsite. She says pregnant and parenting teens need the same support any other teenager needs. Except the stakes are much higher.

Ann COOK: These parents are parents of young children. These children are going to grow up. What they need is an education and an opportunity that will help them perhaps make better choices when they're a teenagers.

And she says, it's in the city's best interest to provide that.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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