Deneazra Burns wants to “break stereotypes” about teen moms: teen moms are not all high school dropouts and don’t become pregnant to get attention. They’re just trying to finish school and do well for themselves and their child.
Burns attends Broadway High School in Minneapolis, an alternative high school devoted to pregnant teenagers and teenage mothers finishing their high school education. It also emphasizes the importance of mother-child relationships with morning childcare lessons and day care facilities.
Broadway isn’t just another school with childcare; it incorporates a holistic model, stressing the importance of relationships between mother and child and between school and life. Being in a school with other students in similar situations helps the girls relate to one another.
The Atmosphere of Solidarity
The school has a welcoming atmosphere due to the encouraging teachers and staff as well as the bonds among the students. The students support each other in parenting and in academics. They talk about their children “all the time,” said Burns and Genny Pongsak, both Broadway seniors.
“If we aren’t doing schoolwork, we’re talking about our kids,” Burns said. In computer technology classes, students even make iMovies of their children.
Burns became pregnant at the end of her eighth grade year. She lived a few blocks away from Broadway and her sister’s friend recommended it, so she enrolled. She didn’t feel nervous or alone her first day when she saw many other students who were pregnant.
Pongsak attended Osseo Senior High School for a couple of years, during which she had her son. She took a break to work during her junior year because money was tight. In 2009, she decided to finish high school at Broadway because of the caring assistance it provided.
Broadway has temporarily moved to a wing in North High School until it obtains a permanent location.
At North High School, they don’t have access to a kitchen, but back at 1250 Broadway Avenue they used to prize their culinary classes. One of Burns’s and Pongsak’s favorite memories is the students in the culinary class sharing their meals with the whole school.
Around holidays they would have end-of-the-day parties in the gym with food and games.
“During Christmas time, we had lawyers come read books and give away free books and presents and gift cards,” Pongsak said. “We had games for the kids. Everybody would be interacting with their kids, playing bowling or something.”
Raising Healthy Kids
Pongsak doesn’t dwell too much on the difficulties of being a young single mom. “You have no choice – you have to be a good mom,” she said.
“They [pregnant teens] are a really hidden population,” said Mary Pat Sigurdson, District Coordinator of the District Teenage Pregnant and Parenting Program (TAPPP). “If there aren’t programs to support them or resources to help, they tend to disappear.”
TAPPP oversees child-care centers in Minneapolis Public Schools and makes sure teen parents are connected with resources.
The first hour of every school day begins with a childcare session. Mothers learn how to care for their child and all first-time moms receive prenatal care. Students also receive lessons from nurses of the Minnesota Visiting Nurses Association (MVNA).
“Our primary goal is to give support to girls in a school setting and get a picture of what’s going on in their lives outside of school,” said Amy Goodhue, Co-Director of Clinical Services for the MVNA.
“The other thing to really think about is the children,” Sigurdson said. “It’s important to look at the moms of course, but it’s also critical not to forget the child. They receive really high-quality child care here.”
This care helps to avoid health problems for the child in the future, Goodhue said. The students at Broadway carry their babies to term more than the average teen mom not in services like these, Goodhue said, and almost 100 percent of the babies have healthy birth weights.
The Academic Setting
Broadway was created by combining Minneapolis’s New Vistas School and Education Place programs in 2001. It is the largest teen-adult alternative school in Minneapolis, Sigurdson said.
At 1250 Broadway, the school had classrooms, a childcare center, a gym, and a kitchen, in the building that housed the district’s headquarters.
The school takes pride in its culinary classes and technology classes. Pongsak and Burns are a part of a team creating a film about Broadway, including the effects of the move.
The school now uses an online-hybrid model and much project-based learning. Programs are available to help land jobs and internships. Students can also receive college credit.
Broadway provides outreach workers to get absent students back to school and with the resources they need. Many of the students are highly mobile, so these workers are crucial in retaining students.
Because of factors such as staying home with a sick child, attendance is sporadic (about 60 percent) but improving, according to the 2010 Minnesota Education Report.
Every year, about 45 to 50 students graduate from Broadway with a diploma or a GED, Sigurdson said. Burns and Pongsak will both graduate sometime in the next year.
For Burns, future plans include finding good day care for her son, going to a community college, and getting a stable job. Pongsak is considering attending the University of Minnesota.
Attendance wasn’t helped when the school had to move locations. In April, the Minneapolis Board of Education voted to develop its new headquarters at 1250 Broadway, which forced Broadway school to North High School as a temporary site.
“When we were at 1250, it was a good vibe,” Burns said. “No one was really stressing.”
While the Broadway students go to classes in a special area of North just for Broadway students, many of their children now attend daycare at Park View Montessori School. The students have their morning child care class at Parkview (or North) and then shuttle to North for classes. The students miss having their children near them.
The move to North has altered the students bonds. At North, Broadway takes up only one wing – no gym, no kitchen, no talking with friends during passing time in the halls.
It’s difficult to interact with all the students because the same people are in all your classes, Pongsak said. At Broadway they would see different people when they switched classes. Also, many students who attended Broadway last year did not return when the school moved to North.
“I don’t think we’ll get the vibe back,” Pongsak said. “We were so used to being at 1250 Broadway.”
The future site of the school is still being decided, although the school district is committed to getting the school and childcare back together, School Coordinator of Broadway Dr. Beverly Davis said.
The students wonder why they were moved from their building without being able to have their say.
“We want our education just as much as anyone else,” Pongsak said. With the help of a grant from the University of Minnesota, she and Burns are creating a film about Broadway’s move and the effects it has on all involved.
The move occurred at the end of September. Staff and faculty wanted to begin the school year at the former Broadway site so students would attend school at the beginning of the year and the whole school could make the move together, Sigurdson said.
“The former Broadway site was more convenient for our population,” Davis said. Most students lived near it, needing to take one bus, Davis said, instead of needing to take a bus downtown, then one to drop off their child, and then one to North.
The former site housed both the school and the daycare facilities. Being separated unsettles the schools dynamic a bit, Sigurdson said. The school is in its fifth year of a five-year study of Adolescent Family Life, a study that Sigurdson said will show it does make a difference to have the site all under one roof.
“These young women live holistically,” Sigurdson said. “If you try to isolate [the different parts of a young mother’s life], it’s really easy to miss the boat with that mom and set her up for failure.”