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High School Day Care: Hartford Program's Future Still In Doubt


March 14, 2009

It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Little Owls Learning Center at Hartford Public High School and for the teenage mothers who rely on it as the city's only high school day-care program.

Last month, head teacher Julie Wacht was told that the program would not be included in the school district's proposed budget and would have to close in June. The teen mothers who use the program while they attend classes would be left to find other day care, and Wacht feared that many would have to drop out of school.

But then, as students collected signatures for a petition to save the day care, Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski announced he would fund the program after all. And, Adamowski said, he would throw in extra money so the day care could expand to accommodate 18 children instead of nine. Adamowski included $170,000 in his budget proposal.

But the plan for an expanded day-care center is far from secure, and many questions linger.

Under Adamowski's proposal, Little Owls would be staffed with four "child development associates." Wacht, an early-childhood education teacher, and the two paraprofessionals who currently work at the day care don't have that certification and were told that they will likely be moved.

"We're pretty upset," said Wacht. "We're pretty unbalanced at this point."

In order to expand the program, a city-run preschool housed in an adjoining room at Hartford Public would have to move. City officials haven't said what would happen to the preschool. Sarah Barr, spokeswoman for the city, said conversations about the preschool's future would be premature at this time, because the budget is still being worked out and awaits review by the school board and city council.

But the most pressing question for Little Owls is whether the school district can afford to expand any programs when it's struggling with a $4.8 million deficit this year and needs to eliminate 254 jobs next year.

Stopping The Cycle

The plan to expand Little Owls was welcomed in a city struggling to keep its teen pregnancy rates down.

In 2006, according to the latest data available, about 50 out of every 1,000 teens aged 15 to 17 in Hartford became pregnant. Nationwide, the pregnancy rate was 22 out of every 1,000 teens aged 15 to 17, according to figures from Breaking the Cycle, a teen pregnancy prevention partnership of the city, the school district and the Hartford Action Plan on Infant Health.

Teen pregnancy groups say that paying for teen pregnancy support programs helps save cities money down the road. Advocates say quality child care for teen parents helps school districts because those children are better prepared when they enter the school system. And teens in the programs are less likely to have a second child right away, advocates say.

"The truth is, as we all know, teen mothers need to be in school," said Lisa Candels, the director of development for Family Life Education Inc., a nonprofit that runs programs for at-risk mothers in Hartford.

Candels was part of the now-inactive Hartford Teen Parent Collaborative, which sought to help teen parents get an education and plan for careers. The biggest obstacle for teen mothers, Candels said, was finding day care.

In 2005, when the collaborative conducted a survey of teenage mothers in city high schools, there were only 545 day-care spots available in Hartford. And only those openings at Little Owls were reserved for children of teenage mothers.

That same year, only about 20 percent of the teen mothers in Hartford attended high school or a nontraditional program such as adult education, the collaborative found.

Little Owls always has a waiting list, Wacht said. This year, 22 names are on it, including a middle school student planning to attend Hartford Public High School next year. Students don't pay tuition for their children to attend the day care, but two staff members who send their children there pay about $105 a week.

Candels said support programs, such as the Nurturing Family home visitation and Teen and Young Parent support programs run by Family Life Education Inc., help increase the rates of teen parents who complete high school.

"Programs work with this population," Candels said. "These are young people who really want to succeed, both for themselves and for their children."

It was that drive that made Rebecca Samuels, 24, sneak her newborn daughter into classes at Hartford Public High School when she was a student there.

Her daughter wasn't yet 3 months old, the minimum age for children to start at Little Owls. But Samuels was determined to stay in school.

"I didn't want to drop out," Samuels said. "Sometimes, I don't know, it just felt like something I was supposed to do."

Samuels is now enlisted in the Army, is a working mother and is about to graduate with a degree in criminology from Central Connecticut State University.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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