Guest blog post by Susan Gillette.
Being a single mom isn’t easy. It’s even harder if you also happen to be a teenager with hopes of finishing high school and dreams of going to college one day.
The statistics are stark. Only 38% of teens who have a child before they turn 18 graduate from high school. And one in three of these very young teen mothers will be on welfare by the time their child is three years old.
Sadly, Chicago is among the 25 school districts with the highest rates of teen pregnancies.
Into this challenging landscape comes the Chicago Public School system’s Simpson Academy for Young Women, located in Chicago’s Medical District. The school serves teenage girls in grades 6 through 12 who are either pregnant or single mothers, and is the only school of its kind in Illinois. In partnership with Rush Medical Center and The Salvation Army, the Simpson Academy is creating an innovative model for giving young mothers and their children the support they need to succeed.
As big believers in improving both public education and social services to our most vulnerable citizens my husband, Ray Gillette, and I were interested in seeing this how this model worked.
The Simpson Academy features small classrooms, dedicated teachers, individual learning plans, an on-site health-care clinic operated by Rush Hospital and a state-of-the art child-care center built and staffed by The Salvation Army.
Our visit to Simpson Academy started at The Salvation Army Child Care Center (also lovingly referred to as Butterfly Babies). We walked through bright and well- equipped rooms for babies and toddlers where professional care givers played with the children. Lack of dependable child care is the single greatest contributor to truancy and ultimately why most teen mothers drop out of school. In addition to quality child care The Salvation Army offers parenting classes and counseling to the Simpson students balancing the pressures of schoolwork with the challenges of being a good mom.
School ends at 2:30 p.m, but child care services are available until 4:30 p.m. so that the moms don’t have to rush between school, child care and public transportation.
The on-site Rush Clinic enables the girls to get check ups for themselves (and soon for their babies) without having to take time off of school for doctors’ appointments.
After touring the daycare center, the clinic and the school we had the opportunity to meet the new young principal of The Simpson School.
Principal Marisa Velasquez is passionate when she talks about her students’ ability and desire to graduate from high school and go to college—and become responsible parents.
“Our girls want to succeed in life. At Simpson we have a lot of people determined to help them do just that.”
In June 2013, 100 percent of the senior class (16 girls) graduated from Simpson Academy and all were accepted into college.
Despite the challenges that the students face, the Simpson Academy is a bright spot, a hopeful place. The students cluster in the halls carrying stacks of books look and act like any teenagers. They have the same hopes and dreams. They deserve the kind of innovative and holistic support that CPS, in partnership with The Salvation Army and Rush, is giving them and their little ones.
Susan Gillette is a Development and Communications Committee Member for The Salvation Army Chicago Metropolitan Division.
To learn more about Simpson Academy, visit their website at: http://www.simpsonacademy.org/