Jayda Hunter isn’t going to school just for herself as she works to graduate this year from Central Wake High School in Southeast Raleigh.
The 16-year-old Raleigh mother is thinking of her 2-year-old daughter, Alana, when she plows through one course after another to get her diploma and eventually become a nurse. Hunter is working hard to overcome the obstacles that teenage parents face so she and her daughter can have a brighter future.
“Going to school is just for her,” Hunter said. “...I’m just trying my best to reach my goal so everything can be better for her.”
She’s getting help from her school, a charter that provides flexible classes and other assistance for students at risk of dropping out. About 25 of the school’s 120 students are young parents.
Students like Hunter are going to school at a time when teen birth rates in North Carolina are down 66 percent since 1991.
Teens who do become parents face challenges graduating and making a living. Only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before age 18 get their high school diploma by age 22, according to the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Federal law requires schools to accommodate students who are parents, such as allowing excused absences when they have to take their children to the doctor.
School counselors, social workers and nurses work with pregnant and parenting students to assess their individual needs, refer them to community programs and provide support to encourage them to stay in school, according to Heather Lawing, a Wake County school system spokeswoman.
“We encourage them to stay in school and make sure they are getting the credits they need to graduate,” Lawing said. “We provide them the support they need to be ready for college or a career.”
But the reality is school budget cuts have resulted in fewer trained people being around to help students who are pregnant or who are parents, according to Elizabeth Finley, a spokeswoman for SHIFT NC, a nonprofit focused on improving adolescent and young adult sexual health.
Finley said young parents may face subtle or overt pressure from schools to drop out and attend an alternative school.
“On the plus side, we have fewer girls who are getting pregnant in their teen years,” Finley said. “But on the bad side, for those who are pregnant it’s getting harder for them to navigate being in school.”
Hunter landed at Central Wake High, a charter school that opened in August.
Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow.
Central Wake is independent of the county school system but isn’t trying to compete with it, according to Tom Hanley, the school’s executive principal.
Central Wake is one of three North Carolina charter schools managed by Florida-based Accelerated Learning Solutions. The schools focus on serving students who’ve dropped out or are in danger of dropping out.
Hunter is among the 20 percent of Central Wake’s 120 students who Hanley says are also parents. Hanley said pregnant mothers and parents of young children are attracted to the school’s flexible hours that allow them to come in between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. for shifts of four or more hours. That flexibility was one of the main reasons Hunter chose Central Wake.
Students take online courses at the school, at 1425 Rock Quarry Road, with teachers present to provide help. Students work through the course material independently and at their own pace.
Hanley noted a pregnant student who went into labor last week.
“There’s never a chance for her to miss out on the curriculum,” Hanley said. “It’s going to be right there for her so she doesn’t have to worry about falling behind and adding to the stresses of being a brand-new mom.”
Central Wake family specialist Kimberly Jones and her interns also help the students learn parenting skills and assist them with access to services such as housing, child care, food and health insurance.
Hanley said one of the things the school is working on is getting community funding to create scholarships to help students pay for their children’s day care costs.
“It’s interesting and positive, without making an overall comment about charter schools in general, seeing a school being thoughtful about the needs of young parents,” said Finley of SHIFT NC.
With the school’s help, Hunter went from being behind academically to now on pace to graduate in June – a year ahead of her former classmates at Sanderson High School in Raleigh. Hunter’s goal is to attend college in the fall.
“I’m so glad that I get the opportunity to actually graduate early and start on my dreams as soon as possible,” Hunter said.
For more information on Central Wake High School, go to https://finishschool.com/schools/central-wake-high-school/ or call 919-521-5067.