In New Orleans, 19 year old Rikita Huland planned to graduate from Landry-Walker High School in Algiers. She thought she would go to college and work in early childhood development. After she started her career, she figured, she would have a baby of her own.
Early childhood development came first, in a very direct way. “He’s here now. I’m just making the best of it,” she said Wednesday, dangling a rattle at Landry-Walker as her son, Lloyal Young, 9 months, stared at visitors out of big, almond-shaped eyes. In fact, he’s increased her motivation. “I want to be successful for him,” she said.
Ainta Brown, 17, shared the sentiment. Becoming a mother to Devon McGrew, now 8 months, “made me feel like I had to step up,” she said. So did Dajia Franklin, 17, mother of 18-month-old Trinity. “I had a baby,” she said, “but it’s not stopping me from what I want to do.”
Although the teen birth rate is falling in New Orleans, there still were 39 births for every 1,000 15- to 19-year-old women in the city in 2011, according to the KidsCount database. About 70 of Landry-Walker’s 1,240 students were parents last year. Principal Mary Laurie is a role model of sorts; she, too, had her first child in high school.
“You can’t just throw these kids to the side because they made a mistake,” Landry-Walker social worker Fran Pursell said.
Which is why 17 of those teen parents, even this summer, are spending all day at the school in literacy and child-care classes. Landry-Walker and the Center for Development and Learning are piloting a program to help them stay in school, improve their children’s lives and prepare for the workplace. They will earn 90 hours toward a Child Development Association certificate to work in day-care centers.