Seventeen-year-old Rena Nadeau admitted there was a time she considered dropping out of school.
Eighteen months ago, she was pregnant and it looked like her school days were over.
“I was on the verge of dropping out,” says Nadeau, as her nine-month-old baby, Kaesen, sits on her lap. “I was at Van Tech and I didn’t want to go to a regular school.”
But her school counsellor told her about the program at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary, which helps young parents stay in school and raise their children.
“I was kinda scared at first to come,” she says.
But now, with the support of the school, her family and boyfriend Jordan Baptiste, who is also part of the Tupper Young Parents program, she is on her way to graduation.
“After Grade 12, I want to go to college to become an interior designer,” she says.
There are 10 moms and one dad — Baptiste — in the program, which is run from a portable at the edge of the school’s playing field on East 24th Avenue, just off Main Street.
Next door is a YWCA nursery where the babies receive daycare.
Once he became a teen parent, Baptiste also found it difficult to remain in his old high school.
“When Rena told me that Tupper would be a good place for me, I came because I want to stay in school,” he says.
“It’s better for me because there’s support for us here and I can spend time with the baby,” says Baptiste, who intends to become a heavy-duty mechanic upon graduation.
It hardly needs saying that looking after a baby and going to school puts a high level of stress on these students.
Nadeau admits that getting up in the morning to get Kaesen ready, fed and out the door in time to catch a couple of buses to get to the school and day care by 9 a.m. is difficult.
But every day she manages it.
Some of these young parents live at home and some are in care or living alone under adult-youth agreements with the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
But the cost of looking after themselves and their babies is often beyond their means.
Tupper needs $10,000 from the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School to provide, food, clothing, diapers, bus fare and other necessities.
The money would also provide gift cards as an incentive to parents to attend regularly.
“People often think young parents don’t want to be successful but these are committed students and brilliant parents; they just need help with some basic needs,” says teacher Nassim Elbardouh.
“It’s difficult for some of them to get here so they need bus passes. Then there’s diapers and formula and things the mothers need. We had one student last year who didn’t have a dress for graduation so we bought one.
“It’s just that we don’t have the money for these things in our budget.”
Elbardouh says the challenges young families face is fierce, especially finding adequate housing.
“Few people want to rent to them, even if they could afford the rent. Housing in Vancouver is expensive for someone with my income. For a young family on low income, it’s impossible.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)