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Buffalo School Board mulls problems of teen pregnancy

More than 600 teenage girls in the Buffalo will likely give birth this year, and not many of them will finish high school.

Five years from now, their children will enter the Buffalo schools as some of the district’s most at-risk students.

That is a dilemma for the Buffalo Public Schools, and now some school leaders want to do a better job supporting these young mothers and their children.

School Board members Wednesday night signed off on a plan to explore opening a special school that would serve both teen mothers and their children.

The goal would be to help pregnant and parenting teens stay on track to graduate, while at the same time ensuring their children get the medical, academic and social support they need to be successful once they enter kindergarten.

“We had a teen who recently raised our awareness of the challenges parenting teens face in our school system,” said board member Theresa Harris-Tigg, who sponsored the resolution. “This resolution is, in essence, to give feet to our discussions.

“These are our children in our schools and they have challenges,” she added.

Although the teen pregnancy rate has been on the decline both locally and nationally, in Buffalo’s highest poverty communities, it continues to be more than double national targets.

There were 741 babies born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2013. The following year, there were 652.

Young mothers represent a significant challenge for schools, bringing with them transportation and child care issues that can prohibit them from getting to school and keeping up academically.

Nationally, only about 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The rate is even lower for teen moms with multiple children and those in high-poverty urban school systems that typically have lower graduation rates.

Thirty percent of teenage girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a reason.

Their children represent an even more difficult challenge.

Children of teen mothers in the inner city often do not receive adequate health care, live in safe housing or have access to early childhood education to prepare them for when they enter the school system. Teen mothers also are more at risk for delivering a child prematurely or at a low birth rate, things that can lead to educational challenges later.

As a result, only about two-thirds of children of teen mothers earn a high school diploma nationwide, compared to 81 percent of their peers with older parents.

The district’s current program serves only about 200 students, a small fraction of the teen mothers giving birth in the city.

Superintendent Kriner Cash said he is happy to explore the possibility, but cautioned that teen mothers are just one of a number of student groups with unique challenges.

“I would just bring to your attention that we have a student population with extraordinary needs,” he said. “What I want to do is be consistent with how we explore these issues.”

“At some point, we’re going to have to prioritize them,” he added.

The potential for such a school has been an ongoing conversation in Buffalo, and recently has come up at board meetings.

Nakeiya Graham, a teen parent at Burgard High School, recently told the board that having day care on site would make it easier for her to attend classes.

“It would make me comfortable to know my son was close at hand,” she said at a School Board meeting last month.