College or Bust: Why school is critically important

Acquire DigitalNews

SCHOOL BUSES IN Bernalillo, New Mexico, carry baby seats, and the high school recently opened an in-house creche. Ideally, town elders would prefer teenage students not to get pregnant in the first place. Alas, unplanned teen pregnancies are more common among Hispanics than in any other group in America. They are most prevalent in rural areas, and strongly associated with childhood poverty.

Small, drab Bernalillo is mostly Latino, poor and surrounded by mile upon mile of desert scrub. In the past three years a total of 39 teenagers have fallen pregnant while at high school, earning them a place in a programme, NM Grads, that helps students with babies complete their education. So far 14 have graduated. Dropping out is bad news in a town where without a diploma “you can’t even get a job in a fast-food restaurant,” says Rebecca Cost, a teacher who runs the NM Grads centre.

Motherhood can easily prove overwhelming for students. Most lack transport, so if they are late for the bus they miss school. Some have boyfriends at the school, who are offered fatherhood classes and prodded to help care for their baby. The programme offers support with schoolwork, lessons in child care, financial literacy classes and free birth control to forestall further pregnancies.

To date no student has chosen an abortion; very few local families would allow it, suggests Ms Cost. Yet traditional values stretch only so far. None of the mothers has married while at the school. After the initial shock, most families “very quickly” welcome the new child, Ms Cost reports. Monique Miramontes, an 18-year-old student with a new daughter, Jaylah, says her parents are not pushing her to marry her boyfriend. They were very disappointed when they first heard about her pregnancy, she concedes, “but as time went on, they got excited.”

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