Teen parent program brings expertise and support to new mothers

When Johana Caballero first told her high school that she was pregnant, she was grateful to hear that there was a place where she could meet with supportive adults, other expecting students, and teen mothers who had gone through a similar experience. Caballero was one of the first participants in Educare West DuPage’s Teen Moms Class.

“The mentors from Educare came into the class and really opened my eyes to what to expect with becoming a mom,” Caballero said. “I really like how they communicated with me.”

Empowering teen parents in the community

The class has been providing confidants and guidance for new and pregnant teen mothers at Community High School District 94 in West Chicago for the last five years. It is one of many ways that Educare schools reach out to their communities to support more children and families and promote quality early learning.

At least twice a month for the whole school year, two teen parent coordinators from Educare West DuPage travel to the high school to meet with the students during their gym class. Together, they decide on rules for the class and topics they want to discuss throughout the school year.

“We teach them what high-quality early education is and what the different developmentally appropriate practices are for their children,” said Lizzette Arcos, Educare master teacher and former teen parent coordinator. “And that they have Educare as a resource for their children to give them a high-quality education, and the opportunity and resources to succeed.”

Educare West DuPage collaborates with the school district, a local program called Teen Parent Connection, and school staff, especially the counselor and physical education teacher to provide the best support for the students.

Providing a safe space to share

Class sizes range from about five to 10 students a year and include a range of seniors to freshman who can stay in the class over multiple years.

The small class size allows Educare staff to provide more individual attention. The goal is to create a safe and comfortable environment where the students can communicate their thoughts and feelings openly. One way the coordinators do this is through journaling, where students can write directly to them and ask questions privately.

The coordinators lead group discussions and bring in speakers to discuss topics from parenting to college and careers to time management. In addition, they have an end-of-the-year movie and relaxation night.

“Our goal for the ladies is to educate them in different topics that they like and that we feel are important for them to know,” said Mayra Loera, Educare family engagement specialist and current teen parent coordinator. “We like to bring in the self-care and show them that it’s important to have ‘me’ time, as well.”

Encouraging future pursuits

The Educare teen parent coordinators encourage the students to continue to pursue their future school and career plans. Loera said the mothers often hear from others that they can no longer go to college because they have a baby, but she and her colleagues “help them feel empowered to say ‘no, I’m still going to college.’”

And it’s working. The high school graduation rate for class participants is 100%—compared to 50%, the national average for teen mothers. Most have also gone on to pursue further education and career goals.

“We want to empower them to be able to advocate for themselves and for their children and to know that we’re here to support them,” Loera said.

Staying connected with Educare

Like several other participants of the class, Caballero’s relationship with Educare didn’t stop there.

She was in the program for two years and enrolled her son Jayden in Educare as soon as he was 6 weeks old. Jayden is now turning five in September and is about to start kindergarten. He is “doing great,” Caballero said. “He loves to do a lot of running, jumping and sports.”

Many of the other past participants also have enrolled their children in Educare, so the class coordinators keep in contact and check in to see how everything is going at home.

Some of the mothers even work for Educare now, including Caballero, who has been a teacher’s aide at Educare West DuPage for a little over a year. She enjoys working with kids and recently received her Child Development Associate Credential.

Caballero would like to see other mothers take advantage of the Teen Moms Class and be inspired to see themselves “as more than just teen parents.”

“I hope they participate and learn as I did,” she said. “I’m just glad I was in the program and got the training to grow as a person and as a mom.”