Brainerd High's "Teen Moms" club tackles dropout rate
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - "Teen Moms" is one of the most popular shows on MTV, but some say it glamorizes teen pregnancy, bestowing fame on teenage mothers. Brainerd High School is handling teen pregnancy in a different way. The school is offering support and encouragement to its current teen moms, while spreading the message to others that this is not a club you should aspire to join.
The Brainerd High Teen Moms Club is a weekly circle of teachable moments, parenting tips, and even a few tears. It's members have much in common.
"I don't think any of us got pregnant on purpose," said Symphony Jones, an 18-year-old senior, and the mother of two-year-old Malik.
Her classmate Kiera Payne, also a senior, said, "I think some girls get pregnant for the wrong reason. They think it's cute, but it's not." Kiera's two-year-old daughter Precious, like most of the Brainerd students' children, is in daycare while her mother is in high school. Others are being cared for by grandparents or great-grandparents.
Brionna Solomon, an 18-year-old junior, is in the unique position of having a five-year-old daughter enrolled in a nearby elementary school. Brionna became pregnant with Toriana at the age of 12. She and her 13-year-old boyfriend had gone to his house to "hang out," when she said, "things started happening." Like the other teen moms, she loves her child but says, "I should have waited. I don't want this to happen to my child. I will be there for her."
"DROPPING OUT SHOULDN'T BE AN OPTION"
Guidance Counselor Melissa Brassel, in her third year at Brainerd, saw the high dropout rates among teen moms, and formed the club to keep them in school. She organizes play days for the moms and their kids, hoping to boost their self-esteem. "I felt like someone should be there for them, showing them the resources that are available," she said. "Dropping out does not have to be an option for them."
Symphony Jones is careful about the message she sends to younger girls. "Some people see me and my little boy, and they say, oh he's so cute, I want to have a baby like that," she said. "I tell them you need to wait until you're older and more mature."
WHY NO "TEEN DADS?"
The club includes about twenty teen moms. Each wonders why society puts the blame on them, and them alone. Most say they get little or no help from the fathers of their children. Yet there is no "Teen Dads Club."
Kiera Payne said, "I think that's unfair. People are in our face, criticizing us, like we got pregnant on our own. We didn't do it by ourselves."
Ms. Brassel agrees. She said, "Raising a child is supposed to be a team effort. If I had my way, there would be teen dad groups too. They lack the skills they need, to be the fathers they need to be."
Kiera Payne's after-school hours are divided between homework and raising her two-year old daughter Precious. Kiera is determined to graduate this spring, and to be a good role model so that Precious will not repeat the cycle. "I know I will always be here for her," Kiera said. "She won't have to sneak behind my back when she's a teenager. I'll be here no matter what."
TEACHING THEM TO BE GOOD PARENTS
Ms. Brassel admits that some people frown on the idea of a Teen Moms Club in a high school setting. But given a choice of ignoring the problem, or encouraging the girls to stay in school, she's glad to chose to take action. "Teaching them to be good parents is what we should be doing," she said. "Their babies can be positive contributors to society. We just have to work with these young moms, to give them the tools and the support to be good parents."
Ms. Brassel says there are several other teen moms, and pregnant students at Brainerd who do not want to be involved in the club. "We try to reach out to them," she said. "They need to know someone cares about them and their babies. It's in their best interest to stay in school, and to finish school."
Chattanooga is home to "OnPoint,"an organization that visits schools, counseling students on making good lifestyle choices. Visit them at www.liveonpoint.org