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High School Day Care Keeps Young Mothers in School With AM-Child Mothers Bjt

January 18, 1986

CHICAGO (AP) _ Each morning, Sonja takes her 3-year-old daughter to her day-care class. Then she walks up three flights of stairs to begin her day, as a high school senior.

Sonja is a 16-year-old mother. She attends Farragut High School. So does her daughter.

At 7:45 a.m., Sonja drops off her child. Mother kisses Muffy. Muffy hugs mother. Then they go their separate ways - Muffy to her table with her playmates, mother to her art class with her classmates.

They participate in a special program aimed at keeping Farragut’s teen-age mothers in school by providing day care for their sons and daughters. Three other city public high schools have similar programs.

Nationwide, education officials say high school day care is relatively unusual. They estimate some dozens of these programs exist across the country.

One reason is ″people have not been sympathetic as a whole to the problem of young mothers,″ said Betsy McGee, assistant director of the New York-based Center for Public Advocacy Research.

The programs ″are controversial,″ she said. ″They’re not really welcome.″ Some people feel these girls ″got themselves into it, they can get themselves out of it.″

At Farragut, where the enrollment is half black, half Hispanic, day care was initiated two years ago by officials searching for a way to keep in school the 80 to 100 girls who become pregnant each year. Farragut’s dropout rate is 19 percent.

″We realized many of our students have attendance problems,″ said Cecelia Morton, who helped develop the center. ″We figured we’d head them off by providing a place to care for their children. It’s more of an incentive to stay in school.″

For Sonja, having her daughter nearby is a comfort and convenience.

″It helps out a lot,″ said Sonja, who works as a short-order cook after school and likes to roller-skate in her free time. She asked that her last name not be used. ″I don’t have to worry about taking her to a babysitter. I know where she’s at. I don’t have to go far to get her.″

But day care is more than a baby-sitting service. It is a place where young mothers can stop by at lunch or study hours to learn how to be mothers.

″I think many of these girls do not have parenting skills,″ said Ms. Morton, Farragut’s home economics chairwoman. ″To see a trained professional ... give them some ideas about discipline is very important. Many don’t understand how to teach their child.″

Their model is teacher Janet Simmons, a large, energetic woman who calls her charges gremlins. With the help of Farragut students, who receive school credit, Ms. Simmons teaches toddlers about the alphabet, colors and sounds from a homey room decorated with a rocking chair, piano, tiny benches and brightly colored posters and calendars.

This year, only six of the 23 children have teen-age mothers or aunts in school. The others’ parents are faculty members or local residents.

The program, which costs $40 a year, is offered to pre-schoolers aged 3 and above, so many Farragut students aren’t yet able to take advantage of it.

But Ms. Morton said she expected that would change within a few years because younger girls are having babies.

″They’re engaging in sex,″ she said. ″They’re having children. That’s what you have to deal with - what is.″

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