Many urban and suburban school districts provide educational support and pregnancy assistance programs for teenage parents. After all, the negative effects of teen pregnancy are well known—difficulties in social and intellectual development for both mother and child; higher cases of failure to thrive, and abuse and neglect for the child; and higher rates of school dropout and failure, as well as guilt and depression on the part of the young mother. With its Family Learning Center, the Leslie Public School system of Michigan has maintained, since 1974, a rural program for young mothers where they can complete their education and receive instruction on good nutrition and prenatal care. In addition, the program relieves the feelings of isolation that can lead to depression for these young women.
The Center offers the full scope of academic coursework because one of their main goals is to "mainstream young people back into their own high school." But there are also classes on parenting, growth and counseling. The school provides the only licensed day care center in the area, and a public health nurse provides nutrition and prenatal care as well as the small community's only classes for expectant mothers. Transportation is provided to and from the center while other government and local volunteers contribute in various ways: clothing, food, toys, tips on jobs and housing. The program also employs a mental health counselor who conducts individual and group counseling, home visits and a special outreach program toward teen fathers, helping them acquire independence, training, and jobs to become supporting fathers.
The Family Learning Center has managed to have a meaningful impact on the quality of life of both mothers and children since its beginnings eleven years ago. With a 97 percent graduation rate among these high-risk students, the Center has achieved an enviable rate of graduation for any school district. The infants are succeeding too as instances of premature births and low birth weights have declined significantly.
When a woman comes to the center, she is able to discuss her choices—keeping the child, adoption, or abortion. Center officials say that, more often than not, the decision has already been made, and they only provide support for that decision. Traditionally, in this rural, conservative area, pregnant teens either left town to give the baby up for adoption, or dropped out of school to avoid the stigma that a teen pregnancy can create.
The Family Learning Center has created a new, tolerant atmosphere, where a having a child does not have to be the end of a young mother's future. Leslie School Superintendent Tom Dove says the program "saves the taxpayers many dollars by making its graduates confident, self-sustaining members of the community."
As most urban centers already have a supportive system for teen pregnancy in place, the primary innovation of the Family Learning Center is to identify a rural population that requires similar support, and catering the service to that population. Rural areas that recognize a similar trend in their teenagers will likely find the Family Learning Center a valuable model for an adaptive and innovative program that can relieve these women in their time of need, and even improve their future. Indeed, the Family Learning Center not only supports these adolescents but also supports the future of Michigan.