Teen mom high school is reborn
Near West Side's Simpson Academy offers new clinic and day care center
03/28/2012 10:00 PM
A Near West Side school for pregnant teens is almost finished with a major makeover whose goal is transforming a dumping ground for pregnant teens into a comprehensive program to help them succeed.
Simpson Academy for Young Women, 1321 S. Paulina St., used to be a one-year school where women could come while they were pregnant, then return to their original schools after giving birth.
That didn’t work too well, according to Simpson’s principal, Joi Kidd-Stamps. Many of the girls would simply drop out after returning to their original schools.
“I think the old model really didn’t work because it was based on the system of shame from the ’70s: ‘You’re a young teenage mother; you need to go hide out somewhere while you’re pregnant; and come back to us when you’re normal again,’” Kidd-Stamps said. “Anything that’s based on shame isn’t going to be successful because when they go back to that school, they’re still a young mother and they feel ostracized, and they just disconnect.”
Looking for a better way, Chicago Public Schools officials brought Kidd-Stamps on two years ago to make big changes at Simpson, and things have been in flux ever since.
Right away, Simpson moved to a full high school model, where pregnant teens could choose to stay their entire high school careers, if they want to. That allows them to continue getting the extra support and understanding of a staff accustomed to the needs of young mothers.
That alone was a boon for the students. But two other major aspects of the plan aim to give young mothers the support they need. One, which is already in place, is a freshly renovated on-site health clinic run and staffed by Rush University Medical Center.
Sally Lemke, practice manager of Rush’s school-based health program, said the clinic gives Rush the opportunity to reach out to students who are at risk of falling through the cracks.
“Health is academic. If these students aren’t healthy and don’t have their health care needs taken care of, they don’t function well in school,” Lemke said. “We’re really a safety net for those girls that are not getting the kind of care they need, for whatever reason, out in their communities.”
The second expansion is an on-site day care center at Simpson, which will be run by the Salvation Army. Opening within the next few weeks, the center is made up of modular classrooms that have been moved into part of Simpson’s parking lot and extensively rehabbed.
When it opens, it’ll have room for 36 kids — 24 infants and 12 toddlers.
Kidd-Stamps said that since she’s arrived at the school, she’s already seen marked improvement. Last year, they graduated 13 of their 14 seniors — a considerable accomplishment, given typical trends among teen moms.
“Out of the seniors we graduated, I would say at least six or seven of them would have dropped out if they had not been at Simpson,” she said, “because it took a lot of coaching, guiding, loving on them and going after them to keep them going in school. Because when it gets hard for them, they do tend to drop out. They don’t always see themselves as college students.”