Excelling in school can be a challenge for any young person. There are distractions, in school and at home, that can take attention away from studying and achieving good grades. Those distractions are multiplied when the young women has a child to care for.
With that in mind, The Salvation Army has opened an Early Head Start Center at The Simpson Academy for Young Women. The center features three infant rooms and one toddler room serving up to 36 infants and toddlers. Staffed by certified Salvation Army child care providers, the center will provide young mothers with the satisfaction of knowing that their children are receiving high-quality child care and Early Head Start services in an easily accessible, nearby location, so they can remain focused on their education. Funding for the Center is being provided by the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).
The Simpson Academy for Young Women is the only public school for pregnant girls and mothers in Illinois serving girls in grades 6 to 12 from throughout Chicago, and it has been a school with CPS for over 30 years. In 2011, Simpson Academy changed from a transitional school that served pregnant students until they gave birth to a full-time school focused on supporting students even after they became mothers.
“This partnership between The Salvation Army, the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services and CPS provides an additional layer of support for young mothers who run the risk of missing school, or even dropping out, due to the lack of accessibility of high-quality, reliable and affordable child care,” said Lt. Colonel Ralph Bukiewicz. “The Early Head Start Center provides Simpson students a safe place for their children to learn and grow, while ensuring that young mothers receive that same educational opportunities as any other student. And, they have peace of mind in knowing their newborns and toddlers are right next door.”
Simpson Academy students receive a variety of supportive services in addition to on-site child care to ensure their success, including on-site prenatal care and well-child care, mental health counseling, parenting education, financial literacy education, domestic violence prevention and classes on healthy relationships. Simpson also has a dance team, a basketball team and other extracurricular programs. The school is focused on developing “Great Mothers, Great Scholars, and Great Citizens” and has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent.
Amber Laster, 17, a junior at the Simpson Academy for Young Women and mother of Jabari, 10-months, said “This is a huge relief for me. I know that while I’m in school, Jabari is well taken care of, and that means I can focus on my school work. If he needs me, I’m right there. I have a plan for my future. I’m doing well in school and next summer I will graduate. I’m planning to go to college and study to become an executive chef so that I can provide a good life for me and Jabari.”
The Salvation Army also provides an additional classroom at its nearby Temple Corps Community Center for children of Simpson students who turn 2 years old before their mothers graduate high school. The Salvation Army Temple Corps will also offer Simpson students nearby access to Salvation Army after-school programs, tutoring, summer day camps and character-building programs.
The Salvation Army operates a total of 8 Head Start sites across Chicagoland and is one of the largest providers of Head Start services for children in Chicagoland. The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division provides full and half-day early care and education programs to more than 380 children and also provides visiting services to pregnant and parenting teens, most who are often without permanent and stable housing.