Before the COVID pandemic began sweeping across the U.S. in early 2020, the Tse’yaato’ High School Teenage Parent Program (TAPP) had a dozen or so students enrolled.
Currently, enrollment is down to two students, a precipitous drop in numbers that Tse’yaato’ High School Principal Traci Parker attributes to the residual effects of the pandemic.
Now, with COVID ebbing, she and the school’s TAPP coordinator, Nancy Walker, are hoping to get more students back in the program.
TAPP is open to students who are freshmen through seniors in high school, mothers or fathers, who are pregnant or who have an infant or toddler up to age 3.
Students in the program complete coursework toward a high school degree using an online platform called Edmentum Plato. They work in Tse’yaato’s TAPP classroom, which is equipped with highchairs, porta cribs and fenced-off play areas for the children. The school provides toys, books and activities, while parents are responsible for bringing diapers, wipes and formula or food if the baby needs something other than the school lunch.
Class time for TAPP students is Monday through Thursday, 8:15 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“We do not provide the childcare,” Parker said. “The student is responsible for their child, but it allows them to come to school, continue their education and be in an environment that can support them, not only in their education but also support them as a young parent.”
Students complete the Edmentum Plato coursework at their own pace but must finish the program before they turn 22.
“Study is at your own pace, which is great for teen parents because you never know when a baby is going to get sick, have colic or the student is just overly tired from all things of a young parent,” Parker said. “If they need to be gone for a few days with a sick child, they can pick up right where they left off, and they haven’t missed any instruction.”
While students work in the classroom, Walker is available to help with questions about the coursework and guide students as they strive toward their academic goals. She also coordinates with different community programs to come in and meet with the students to help foster them in their roles as young parents.
“We have county employees come in from the different programs for housing, finance, car seats, drugs, safe driving,” Walker said.
Among the partners that the school works with are VocRehab – which helps students with their transition from high school to college, tech school, trade school or work – and Healthy Start for students who have a child 2 years and younger.
“As the children grow and the county programs are coming in, as a byproduct of that, we’re also monitoring the growth and development of the babies as they grow,” Parker said.
Walker added, “In this environment, we can identify if they’re having developmental delays and then we get them connected with the right resources, which I think a lot of teen parents wouldn’t know. They’re going to be in the public school system in five short years, so it’s to everybody’s benefit to have the kids in the program be the best they can be.”
Walker also highlighted the advantage of bigger class sizes, where more parent and children can interact on a daily basis and build their socialization skills.
“When we had a larger group before COVID, we sat together as a group, they fed their babies and ate, and there were always discussions. Some of them liked current events, sometimes it was parenting topics,” she said.
“I was trained in a family development course that the county was offering, so I had 12 lessons that I taught them during lunch while they ate. The way the program is set up, it’s supposed to be based on dialogue from the students. With just one or two students, that program has not been very successful the last couple years.”
One recent TAPP graduate, Lakayla Jim, now 19, said the program helped her by making her feel comfortable in a classroom that had other young parents.
“I didn’t feel judged by anyone, unlike if you were to go to the regular high school, a lot of people would stare at you, and it would really mess on your mental health,” she said. “If you do have a toddler or you’re pregnant, this is the best place. I’d say that you’ve got everything here. You don’t have to stress about your education. You work at your own pace, so it’s not that stressful.”
Lakayla’s younger sister, 17-year-old Lanisha, is one of two students currently enrolled in TAPP at Tse’yaato’. At Lakayla’s urging, she joined the program after she found out she was pregnant while still a freshman in high school.
“As soon as I got into the classroom, I felt like I was secured by other parents. When I first started, there was more parents that were around. They all had kids and I felt very comfortable, and I felt like I could get things done,” Lanisha said.
“I started pushing myself and I finished a lot of classes this year. It really brought comfort to me that Nancy was pushing me, and she was giving me wise words along the way, saying that I could do it, that I could get done. So, I really have big motivation for school.”
Another benefit of the program is that the students are provided free breakfast and free lunch. The school also pays the state mileage reimbursement rate to students for the mileage that they drive back and forth to school. And the program gets many donations from the community, so students are often able to go through boxes of donated clothing, blankets and other items for use in the classroom and at home.
Parker said enrollment in the program is “pretty much guaranteed” for students who are pregnant teens or who have a newborn or toddler, as long as they’re able to graduate by their 22nd birthday.
Because it’s a self-paced program, students can enroll at any time, on any day of the school year.
“Even if a student has been out of school for several years and they want to come back sometime within that age range, they can come back and finish and get a high school diploma instead of working on a GED,” Walker said. “If a student has a long absence, they can pick up right where they left off. They lose nothing in those classes. It’s all electronically stored.”
Parker said the school wants to get the word out about TAPP because it’s aimed at helping support students in the community.
“We know a lot of students are out there, and maybe the family is very supportive in helping them out, but if we can just relieve some of the pressure off the family by utilizing this program, because babies and toddlers take a lot of energy from the whole family,” Parker said.
“We just want to be here to support the students and their families and help them progress toward graduation in the best way possible.”
Teenage parents interested in enrolling in TAPP can call Tse’yaato’ High School at 928-645-6825 to schedule an appointment.