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Can Separate Be good?

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We found out six months ago or so that teen pregnancy rates are up in the US for the first time in many years. This of course translates to more pregnant high school students (particularly given that there has not been an attendant rise in abortion rates). Pregnant and parenting high school students unsurprisingly may have a tough time meeting some of the obligations their schools place upon them. So the question becomes: how to best accommodate the needs of pregnant and parenting teens while enabling and encouraging them to stay in school? Under Title IX, schools are required to make accommodations for pregnant and parenting students. But many don’t.

One solution has been to set up separate schools for pregnant and parenting teens (so-called “p-schools”), including the Pritchett School in Boise, Idaho. According to a recent article:

The school offers day care and a baby-supply store. Mothers can nurse their babies at the back of classrooms. The school’s size — just 45 students — allows the girls to get a lot of attention. Classes start after 9 a.m., and extracurricular activities are focused on skills such as business, parenting, and family law.

Above all, the school drills the value of a diploma. Incoming students are snapped wearing a cap and gown. Their photos hang in the hallway as a visual goal.

In the past several years, the school has managed to get 80 to 92 percent of the girls to graduate, and roughly half of them go on to college or junior college. “I have big plans,” says Alicia, who is heading to Boise State University in the fall to study culinary arts. “I am going to be head chef of some fancy restaurant.”

Sounds pretty good, right? But there’s also a downside: concerns abound that the schools offer sub-standard education and that separating pregnant teens from their peers might not ultimately be a wise move. Because of these concerns, p-schools have lost funding and are facing closure.

So what are we to do? Continue to “mainstream” or provide the services pregnant and parenting teens need but only in a separate school? I’m not sure which trade-offs we should be willing to make.

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