Bradford County educators may have discovered a way to counteract the high dropout rate of teen parents in the area.
Cindy DeValerio, coordinator of early childhood education at The Rainbow Center preschool facility, said she and a number of other teachers saw a need to address the issue in the community.
In 1990, DeValerio headed a teen-parenting program allowing teen moms to attend school with their children in one location. She found the classroom model worked best when teens attended regular high school while their children attended daycare across the street.
At Bradford High School or Bradford Middle School, teen mothers can visit their children while learning parenting skills during the afternoon after their academic courses have finished. The students earn elective credit for the Parenting 1 and Parenting 2 courses that last one full academic year.
“It’s not easy (being a parent), at all,” said Lacey Jewell, a 17-year-old teen mother in the program. “But I wouldn’t change it for nothing in the world.”
Qiana Jackson, a former teen mother in the program and current nursery teacher at The Rainbow Center, encourages teen parents to strive for success.
“If you are in school and your child is in school, you want to go,” said Jackson. “It’s like your child pushes you to go. So don’t ever give up. Just always reach for your goals because that’s just what people want to see, they want to see you fail. And that’s the main thing you can’t give people.”
Eight teen mothers are enrolled in the courses this year. DeValerio said mothers who participate in the program have a 100 percent high school graduation rate.
The course is open to pregnant teens, teens who already have children, teen fathers and students who don’t have children who want to learn parenting skills.
According to a Florida KIDS COUNT 2009 report, births to unwed mothers under age 20 in Bradford County total to 11.5 percent. In 2011, there were about 52 births per 1,000 female teenagers ages 15 to 19 in the county.
In 2010, Florida ranked 29 out of 51 states and the District of Columbia in teen births among females ages 15 to 19 (1 being the highest rate and 51 being the lowest rate), according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health.
“Sadly enough, I can tell you that our rates are usually higher than many other counties in the state,” DeValerio said. “I attribute some of that to us being a rural, very low-income community with not a lot of extra things for our students to do. We have a wonderful high school. We have a wonderful vocational center. We have lots of churches, but we don’t really have a lot of other extracurricular things for high school ages of children.”
The program is affiliated with the Bradford County School Board. The daycare center then allocates funds for the teen-parenting program. Private donations and church groups also provide funding and items such as diapers, DeValerio said.