Jaime Zavala, a William Daylor High School student, has a lot more on his plate this weekend than homework. His girlfriend is expected to deliver their baby boy as early as Friday.
The 18-year-old has cleared space in his family’s Sacramento home for a crib and is excited for the big day, he said. All that’s left is to wait and study up on how to care for his son, soon to be his namesake.
“I’m here just to get research, and see if there’s anything I really need just to help me help my son,” he said. “They can show me how to take care of my kid, what I need to do.”
High schools have college fairs and science fairs each year, but the Elk Grove Unified School District hosted a less common event Wednesday called the Teen Parent Program Resource Fair. Now in its second year, the event is designed to connect current or expecting parents to resources that will help them stay in school, keep themselves and their babies healthy and avoid second pregnancies.
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Zavala was one of about 50 students attending the event at Daylor, the district’s first continuation high school.
Like many young couples, Zavala and his girlfriend, who is not a Daylor student, were not expecting to have a baby. Though the adolescent birth rate in Sacramento County has dropped by 25 percent in the last decade, the numbers are twice as high among African American and Hispanic students compared to their Caucasian peers, according to a county health report.
At Daylor, one of three continuation high schools in the district, about one-quarter of the 170 students are parenting or pregnant. It is the only site in the district with a full-time day care center on campus, said Tami Silvera, program specialist with the Teen Parent Program, a support network for students in the district that hosted the fair.
About 70 percent of teen mothers in California drop out of high school, according to the California Department of Education.
“Whether you agree with that circumstance or not – in an educational environment, we want all our students to be successful and graduate,” Silvera said. “And some of our students are going to need support in being parents.”
The day care center, where Daylor parents can stop to visit their babies between classes, has been open since the 1980s and is available to any pregnant or parenting student in the Elk Grove Unified School District. The Teen Parent Program, now in its third year with funding from Kaiser Permanente, reaches out to students who are pregnant or parenting and guides them through child care, school-approved maternity leave and federal and state aid programs. Students who are uncomfortable at school can find alternative learning environments.
There have been about 100 students in the program in each of the two years that it has tracked enrollment, Silvera said.
At the Wednesday resource fair, current and expecting parents chatted with representatives from the Beanstalk Food Program, Early Head Start, Planned Parenthood and a dozen other organizations about the breadth of resources available to teen parents. They heard presentations on nutrition, stress and custody rights and walked out with tote bags and healthy snacks.
Maintaining physical and mental health can be difficult for teenage moms, said Jessica Walker, executive director of the local nonprofit Mom in Me Network. Walker organizes support groups and remains available by phone and text to help young women build confidence as mothers.
“They’re going through two transitions,” she said. “They’re going from a teenager to an adult, and from just a woman to a mother ... I want them to know that their life is not over.”
Mercedes Jefferson, 19, in her final year at Daylor, said community resources have been a huge help in getting through high school as a teenage mom. She had her daughter, Elina, at age 15. With tension at home and the baby’s father in prison, Jefferson had to figure out mothering by herself, she said.
During times when she lacked permanent housing, Jefferson leaned on friends she met through teenage mom support groups. She asked staff at the Daylor day care center, where Elina stayed during school hours, for toilet paper and other supplies.
Now Jefferson and Elina live in their own apartment, which Jefferson pays for by working two jobs. Jefferson is determined to get her diploma and start a career with the state this summer as a security technician.
“I made the choice to keep my child, and I just got my stuff together,” she said. “It’s just been going up from there ... I definitely learned along the way. Now, I think I’m a great parent. Me and her are very close. She’s all I have.”
The level of support offered at Daylor is rare in California, said school principal Kathy Whiteside, who spoke at the fair. The state budget for teen pregnancy initiatives has been cut by 70 percent in the past five years, according to a recent University of California, San Francisco, study.
In the Sacramento City Unified School District, American Legion High School, Hiram W. Johnson High School and Capitol City School have historically offered child care on campus. The child care programs at American Legion and Hiram W. Johnson closed at the end of the last school year due to a lack of state funding, and money had to be shifted to a less expensive program that provides 90 minutes of support each week for babies at home, said Noel Estacio, child development coordinator for the district.
Additional grants from the federal Early Head Start program will allow child care centers to reopen at the other two campuses this July, allowing more young women to continue learning in a conventional school setting, Estacio said.
“I really think it’s going to help with an increase in enrollment for these families,” she said. “If they don’t have someone at home, they can now bring their babies to school.”
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