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South County Beat: Program provides support to teen parents in school

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Samantha Ranis is having a busy senior year. The 18-year-old Nipomo resident rises early and drives her 18-month-old son, Jaxson, to a day care center at Lopez High School before heading to a veterinary science class at Nipomo High.

Then, Ranis heads back to Lopez High to complete three hours of independent study. She’ll graduate this June with her class at Nipomo High.

“I think I would have dropped out a long time ago if it wasn’t for HOPE,” Ranis said, referring to the Lucia Mar school district’s Hands-On Parenting Education, an academic program for expecting and parenting students.

“I don’t know if I’d be necessarily so focused on my future now,” said Ranis when asked how her life might be different if she hadn’t had Jaxson in September 2009. “Now I’m more driven to graduate, get on my feet and take care of my son.”

Three teenage mothers interviewed this week at Lopez High talked about how their lives have changed since becoming pregnant.

There are the obvious changes — late-night feedings have replaced late nights with friends, and money that might have been spent on clothing is now used to buy diapers and other necessities. They’ve worked through their parents’ initial reactions to their early pregnancies and say they’ve had to grow up faster than other girls their age.

Ranis tried to keep up her former routine at Nipomo High, playing softball and raising a pig with FFA, but the schedule was too time-consuming.

“Of course, like any teen mom, I wish I waited longer,” Ranis said. “But my son is my entire world.”

The teens’ perspective on school has also changed: “Before, a diploma was just a piece of paper,” said 17-year-old Madelline Wiggins, whose son, Josiah, was born in April 2010. “Now, if I don’t graduate, then how can I get a job to take care of my son?”

Wiggins will graduate early this spring from Lopez High and plans to attend Hancock College in Santa Maria. She wants to study criminal justice.

Likewise, Megan McMahon has college plans. She intends to study at Cuesta College after graduation from Lopez High and is interested in interior design.

Apart from school, the 17-year-old’s days are spent with daughter Chanel, who started crawling at 5 months old.

She credits school staff for helping her work through the stress and new challenges of having a child, from learning how to breastfeed to changing a diaper to anticipating when her daughter needs to visit a dentist.

In the past 10 years, the HOPE program has served more than 500 students. Eighty-seven percent of its seniors have received a diploma and 81 percent have enrolled in a community college or a job-training program or secured a job within a year of graduation, according to Leona Gray Cornwall, a supervisor for the California School Age Families Education program, the statewide umbrella program providing support services to teen parents.

The program allows teen moms and dads to visit their children throughout the day, take a child development class and work toward receiving their degree.

Teens are encouraged to start prenatal care as soon as they get into the program, and nearly 100 percent of the children are up to date on their immunization schedules and well- child checks, Gray Cornwall said.

Less than 1 percent of students enrolled in the program have had or fathered another child within two years, compared to 25 percent of unsupported teen parents nationwide, according to the California Department of Education.

“What we’re teaching — how to parent, how to be responsible, how to meet the needs of their child — is invaluable,” Lopez High Principal Christine Granados said.

Get involved

The major fundraising event for the HOPE program, which serves the needs of teen parents and their children, is slated for May 14.

The 7th annual dinner and auction, co-sponsored by the Exchange Club of the Central Coast, will be at Edwards Barn, 1095 Pomeroy Road in Nipomo from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The theme is “A Nite at the Races.” For more information, call Angela Alton at 474-3750, ext. 7573 or Leona Gray Cornwall at 474-3750, ext. 7571.

Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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