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To Care and To Learn: How a Humanities Program is Guiding Single Teen Mothers Towards a Path to College
Living as a teenager can be a hard thing to do. Raising a child can be a hard thing to do. Now imagine trying to grow up while handling both. You are essentially talking about one child learning how to raise another. This situation puts a great deal of pressure on teen mothers. They are forced to make sacrifices in order to find ways to better care for their children even to the point of dropping out of high school. In many cases, the drop-out is a result of teen mothers who cannot handle the pressure of being at school and raising a kid at the same time, so it comes down to choosing one or the other. It makes them feel as if they have painted themselves into a corner with no way out.
Perhaps young girls like Priscilla Rivera who live in one of the most impoverished areas of Massachusetts can find that hope again...all thanks to a program that will help her expand her mind about the world around her.
On July 20, The New York Times spoke with Priscilla, who is now 21, about her decision to drop-out of high school after her freshman year. She resides in Holyoke, MA, which is noted for having the highest high school drop-out and teen pregnancy rates in the state.
“I went to school with the attitude, ‘Oh, this is hard, and I’m not going to do it,’ ” Ms. Rivera said recently. “After a while, the teachers gave up on me. They were like, ‘If you don’t want to do your work, just put your head down.’ ”
Feeling discouraged, she left her school, became pregnant a year later, and went on welfare.
Despite the odds, Priscilla did manage to find a light at end of her dark tunnel. She was referred by the state to attend The Care Center, a non-profit organization offering an alternative education program to young mothers. The primary aim of the organization is focused on offering courses in art and humanities, including photography, poetry, creative writing, and philosophy. The school makes these programs available through partnerships with various colleges, including a study of world religions from Elms College, classes on photography through Hamsphire College, and the Clemente Course in the Humanities from Bard College.
According to their website, the Care Center boosts to have top-notch professors work in these programs to deliver a real quality education to their students. Furthermore, it also offers an athletics program for the students in numerous sports, including rowing, zumba, bowling, and swimming. Finally, since the center is geared towards impoverished young women who are usually raising children of their own, the center also offers a child care center. The center not only provides child care services for the students as they attend class, but also has programs to help students bring up their child in a happy and healthy environment. More information about the organization can be found at this link:
The New York Times explains the Care Center’s main focus for its students is to “…examine their life and what they are seeing around them more deeply,” said Anne Teschner, the Center’s Director. In fact, Earl Shorris, the founder of the Clementes Course in 1995, believed that learning humanities would put students on the same level as the privileged class rather than having them learn practical skills that would force them to take on low-earning jobs.
Like many other students, Priscilla intended to get the motivation to learn, earn her GED, and graduate from the center with a clear path towards attending college. She has taken the GED test once before and passed all sections except for math. She hopes to take it again soon with the intention of enrolling into Holoyke Community College this fall. In the meantime, she is happy to have graduated from the Clementes Course in late June, which has earned her six college credits.
Tiffany Jones, a fellow student who graduated the same course with Priscilla, shared that same pride. “I had never really had anything good in my life,” Ms. Jones said. “I don’t have nobody, so for me to do it by myself and not have anybody telling me to do it, it shows I’m really trying.” This is a sentiment that has been shared by the student body: feeling as if they have learned to appreciate the world around them while accomplishing something of value in their lives.
When I was reading through this article, I had also read through the comments that accompanied it. While some of them praised the aims of the Care Center, there were others that dealt some heavy criticism. In a nutshell, the negative comments stemmed around blaming the teenagers for not using common sense when they became pregnant while they were in high school. They also felt the Care Center’s focus on teaching humanities and art subjects was a waste of time, feeling that the students would have been better suited to be educated on how to avoid becoming pregnant. You can read the comments for yourself on the link to the article here:
It’s easy for us to point fingers at the youth who fall on hard times and to say, “They should have known better!” The problem is we have no idea how they have been brought up or how involved their parents were with their lives. How can we tell someone they should have known better when chances are that person was never taught how to live a better life in the first place?
Certainly, education on prevention should be taught, but we are not in a perfect world. There is never a guarantee that young ladies like Tiffany and Priscilla won’t end up being single teenage mothers no matter how good intervention programs may be.
Regardless of the situation, these girls are now mothers and lecturing them will not make the problem go away. Furthermore, it not is just about them...it’s their children who had no control of how or where they were born. These young mothers and their children need our help. Perhaps some of the mothers may consider giving up their children for foster care or adoption. However, what if those options are not available? Even if they are, what if these mothers simply don’t want to give up their children? We have to think about a solution that’s going to give these girls and their kids the best chance to have a normal and happy life.
The Care Center is a step in the right direction. Young teenage mothers like Priscilla and Tiffany went through the program feeling as if they couldn’t do something right. Now, they are working on their GED and setting their sights on a future in college. They are getting the support they need to earn their college credits and expand their minds while the center helps care for their children. They are mastering concepts of human thinking and developing positive attitudes in a neighborhood where hopes and goals are merely seen as pipedreams. They are unlocking talents and brilliance within their minds that remained undiscovered to them until now.
The program may mainly focus on humanitarian and philosophical studies, and some of us may view that as rather unpractical in a tough-market world. However, these are merely stepping blocks towards a door that will open up to a realm of possibilities. These students are at a low-point in their lives. They feel as if they are complete failures and have hit rock bottom. Worse yet, they probably feel that they have just ruined their childrens' lives. Perhaps the Care Center will not earn them a doctorate in biology, but they have developed an educational program that gives them drive and opportunity.
Drive and opportunity: the two elements that will help get these girls and their children out of the slums into real neighborhoods with real homes.