Annabella Delgado’s life took a dramatic turn shortly before her 16th birthday. The Sylmar teen learned she was pregnant and would be giving birth to a boy.
“It changed my life a lot. People would tell me my life was over because I got pregnant so young,” Delgado said. “But I never saw it that way. I saw it as changing my life for the better.”
Her son Sebastian is now 15 months old and full of energy and curiosity. Delgado is currently doing a balancing act of making sure Sebastian has something — and someone — to help divert his attention while she works on an English paper.
Delgado, now 17, and who lives with her mother and siblings, is determined to finish high school and attend college. She is still completing ninth grade work because she opted not to attend regular public or private high schools after having her baby.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable seeing my friends and having them see me,” she said.
Fortunately for Delgado, she now has alternatives — and HOPE.
She is attending the Assurance Learning Academy in Pacoima, a free and accredited public charter school. It is here that students can embark on an independent study schedule to catch up with their course requirements. They can also earn their high school diploma as well.
Making a tremendous difference, the school has a workroom that includes a “child-friendly” space — toys, small cribs with blankets, diapers and formula, as well as employees who can help Delgado watch her son while she does her schoolwork.
The room is courtesy of HOPE (Helping Our Parent-Teens Excel) and is for both male and female students who are welcome to bring their children with them to school.
“Having a baby is a full-time job. And matching that with a traditional high school schedule is [almost] impossible,” said Stacy Roth, HOPE program coordinator. Many teen parents don’t finish school because the don’t have child care or a supportive learning environment.
There are 300 students currently enrolled at Assurance Learning Academy in Pacoima of which 26-30 are teen parents. Other students opt for independent study after a lengthy illness or learn “differently” and can do better without a standard school schedule.
“It’s not just about ‘I need a place to go school.’ We provide [students] a lot of support while continuing to work toward a diploma,” said Christina Graves, the assistant principal at the Pacoima school.
“Usually there is some reason the traditional school wasn’t working for them,” Graves said. “I was a teacher for 16 years in (LAUSD) schools and I love district schools. But this program, to me, is the solution to all those kids who are falling through the cracks despite all the amazing efforts to keep them from falling through the cracks.”
Statistics for teen parents, however, can be bleak. There are nearly 25,000 teens that give birth to children every year in California. And 70 percent of them do not graduate from high school, dropping out after becoming teen parents. And the children of parents who have dropped out of high school are unlikely to finish high school as well.
“All teens face obstacles, and for [teen parents] their challenge is another human life,” Roth said. “We want to do what’s best for the parent, and that will transfer to the next generation — to their child.”
Roth said the HOPE program opened a “child-friendly” work at the Assurance Learning Academy in Panorama City three years ago. A similar space at the Antelope Valley Learning Academy in Palmdale opens today, May 9.
The room at Pacoima school will have its formal “grand opening” on May 14.
“The HOPE program is specific to that classroom,” Roth said. We’re not a day-care or a pre-school; the parents have to be on-site. This is a place where they can bring their babies to school when they need to get their work done.”
Having a son has also given Delgado a different appreciation for Mother’s Day.
“Now that I’m a mother, I value my mom so much more. She’s been through so much, but done so much for us. Now I understand her and appreciate her more every day.”