At This Girls School, Every Student Is A Teen Mother

AT the end of a year in which motherhood has been at the centre of impassioned debate in the US, a school in Texas for teenage mothers shows how young lives are being supported – and reshaped.

It was early 2021, and Helen had been eating more than usual.

The soon-to-be 15-year-old couldn’t explain why her appetite had seemed to grow so much.

“Is this normal?” she asked her older sister. It could be, her sister suggested.

But Helen had also been moody and would easily find herself picking fights with family and friends. Then her period was late.

On her birthday, she learned she was pregnant.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Helen said.

Soon, her friends shunned her, accusing her of using her pregnancy to “get guys” and the father of her child, a classmate, stopped talking to her.

“I didn’t want to be fighting with them,” Helen said.

Finally, near the end of her pregnancy, she decided to switch schools.

From the outside, Lincoln Park looks like any other US high school – sandy brick, school buses parked out front and the American flag flying in the breeze.

But inside, alongside the sounds of teens going to class are the cries and babbles of babies.

On its walls, posters encouraging going to college sit alongside ones promoting pregnancy services and parenting classes.

And next to the main building is a daycare centre.

The school in Brownsville, Texas, a town on the US-Mexico border, is one of the last providers of a specific educational service – to teach teenage mothers.

Teen birth rates in the US have declined in the last three decades, but among young Hispanic women, it remains much more common than for the rest of the population.

Latinas have the highest teen pregnancy rates of any group, and experts warn that following a 2022 Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal protection to abortion, the numbers are likely to rise.

Almost all of the students at Lincoln Park High, which has exclusively served teen mothers since 2005, are aged between 14 and 19. All of them are Latina – a reflection of the city’s 94% Hispanic population as well as its higher rates of teen pregnancies.

Most are low-income, and a few are American-born Mexican residents who cross the border daily from Matamoros, Tamaulipas to attend classes in the US.

In a year when motherhood has sat at the heart of America’s cultural and political conversation, Lincoln Park offers a glimpse of how it shapes the lives of young women already facing the challenges of this unexpected and monumental life change.

The thing that convinced Helen to switch to Lincoln Park was that she could take her baby to the school, she said.

Speaking to the BBC between classes this June, Helen still looked every inch the shy, dark-eyed teenager she was in her black T-shirt and pale pink shorts.

But in her backpack next to her books and journals were diapers and baby clothes for her daughter, Jenine, now eight months old. “It used to just be me, now I have to think about me and my baby,” she said.

Some 70 students are enrolled at the school, although that number seesaws throughout the year as newly pregnant students join, and some young mothers choose to return to their previous schools postpartum.


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