“In my mind, to be a teen mother, to be a student, to continue to be a daughter and a girlfriend and to graduate high school, that’s a big feat,” said Naomi Tamashiro, teacher of the Pregnant and Parenting class at Kaua‘i High School.
The elective class, also known as GRADS for graduation, focuses on reality and dual-life skills. It is a program specially funded for pregnant or parenting female or male students.
Because students enter at different times of the school year and at different stages of pregnancy and parenting, the curriculum is flexible and suited to the varying needs of the individuals.
A student is eligible to enroll for the class once a pregnancy is confirmed and the student is committed to having a healthy pregnancy.
“The students in the program at Kaua‘i High School beat the national average statistically,” Tamashiro said. “Most teen parents do not graduate from high school. A lot of ours do.”
Another national statistic that the female GRADS students beat is that most of them are still with the baby’s father.
Tamashiro relies on the many partnerships she has developed with community resources over the past five years, in which she has worked to meet the Hawai‘i content and performance health standards.
Because the topics covered run the gamut from nutrition to legal issues, Tamashiro has a wide range of people coming in to work with the students.
Legal Aid Kaua‘i presents a curriculum called “Parents and the Law.” Ashley Blackstad said the sessions helped her understand the rights and responsibilities of teen parents. Kalea Pereza said it was good to get to know attorneys.
Tiara Wade said the attorneys helped her understand issues like putting the father’s name on the birth certificate and child support.
Pereza said she especially enjoyed the Alu Like programs that taught her about developmental charts that show what a baby should be doing as it grows. She also was grateful to learn about play groups she could attend with her baby.
Two projects Pereza especially enjoyed were making mobiles and a Hawaiian quilt, she said. The instructors from Alu Like provided the sewing machines and fabric and all the tools necessary.
Blackstad said the public health nurses from the Department of Health were especially helpful in providing healthy snacks, talking about pregnancy and informing them about services such as “Women, Infant and Children.”
“Nurse Sammee Albano (DOH community health educator) always checks on how we are doing,” said Blackstad.
Wade said she likes the different techniques she has learned to calm a baby. Leaders from Kamehameha Schools taught baby massage that can provide one-on-one time with a baby, helping the baby feel better and teaching them about touch.
“It teaches them from a young age that this is a good touch and when they get older (what is) not a good touch,” Wade said. “They learn different kinds of touches.”
“The reason we are doing this is so that the students will become responsible parents,” Tamashiro said. “We must model at our schools so they can see our passion about things and so they can see we are willing to learn different things.”
Tamashiro said one of the assignments she has her students do is utilizing the developmental charts. Students keep track monthly of their infants’ development in six areas. If the infant is slow in developing in any area, the student takes the responsibility to use a manual to determine what can be done to help the infant improve.
One example of a truly collaborative effort is what they have going with the Kaua‘i Community College’s nursing program. The KCC instructor assigns students to work with the high school students on various topics that Tamashiro selects. These may include nutrition, labor and delivery and developmental stages.
“Every year the format changes depending on the students,” Tamashiro said.
The program allows the nursing students to fulfill their curriculum requirements as the high school students meet their standards. In addition, relationships are established and the student nurses end up caring deeply about the students and the students feel comfortable asking questions and getting information.
In-school collaboration occurs with the special education students. As they tutor or work on special projects with the special education students, the pregnancy and parenting program students learn about handicapping conditions and how to support children with disabilities. They also learn about the need to remain healthy during their own pregnancies.
“After half-an-hour, I’m so drained because there all these different needs,” Blackstad said.
The bonds the students establish within the class and with all the resource workers enable them to bring up topics that can be researched and carried out. One example shared by Tamashiro was planning a baby lu‘au on a budget.
“I don’t know how to make things,” Tamashiro said. “I think that’s good because it shows the students that they don’t have to know everything, but they have to be able to ask and try and do their best.”
With the help of resource staff from Alu Like, the class was able to help Pereza pull off a baby lu‘au on a tight budget. It included digging up milk cartons from the cafeteria and washing them out to use for favors. It involved planning a doable menu.
Tamashiro schedules speakers on topics like domestic violence and the Hawaiian registry.
“We are an instrument to get the students to know what’s available,” Tamashiro said.
Next week, Tamashiro will help the girls create a baby ID packet that will include a hair sample for DNA, fingerprints and other pertinent information to assist in locating an infant in the event of an emergency.
Tamashiro said enrollment fluctuates in her classes. This year she has had 18 students, which is on the high side.
Though the class is an elective, the majority of students sign up for the course, Tamashiro said. Those who don’t sign up may have decided that it’s too close to the end of the school year or graduation. Some may have opted to be home-schooled, while others might have dropped out to work and get General Education Development instead.
Students are allowed to take the class for up to four semesters.
Pereza enrolled in the class during the second semester of her sophomore year.
“I thought it would be good because there were all the other pregnant girls so I thought I could learn more,” Pereza said.
She is now taking the class for the fifth semester, for which she won’t receive a credit.
“I kept taking it because Mrs. Tamashiro is the best teacher,” Pereza said.
She credits Tamashiro for keeping her in school and for making learning fun, different and helpful.
Blackstad also has been a returning student, as she has taken the class for four semesters.
“Mrs. Tamashiro understands what we go though,” Blackstad said.
She said Tamashiro pushes them to graduate, keeps them on track and calls them if they are not in school: And asks them why they’re absent.
“She keeps telling you to get things done,” Wade said.
Wade enrolled in January and is expected to give birth in August.
Shaz-Lynn Simao-Michael, a junior, is in her second semester of the class. She has a full schedule of classes and said making it to class is a challenge.
Kaua‘i High School has an attendance policy that requires students to attend afternoon school to make up absences.
“My sitter stays until 2:30, so I can’t attend afternoon school,” Simao-Michael said. Whenever her baby gets sick, she has to stay home.
Simao-Michael said she got through the pregnancy and birth of her child with support from her family, friends and Mrs. Tamashiro.
Blackstad said that being in the class, she knows she’s not alone.
“We’re here to talk to each other,” Blackstad said.
“Everybody helps out everybody,” Pereza said. “Somebody has been through it once before.”
Blackstad said that she could tell people were staring at her and talking about her during her pregnancy. People told her she would drop out, she said.
“Being in this class helped me to let it go and focus on school and wanting to graduate,” Blackstad said.
Pereza, Wade and Blackstad will be graduating in next month. They have done it while juggling school, jobs and families.
“Most people have an image of a teen parent,” Tamashiro said. “Once people get to know my students, they are amazed at their resiliency, the level of care and all they put up with. It’s quite amazing. They are truly the honor students.”
• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.