As schools across the Chicago region get ready to re-open their doors, many students are packing up their bookbags and choosing their First Day outfits. At Association House High School in Humboldt Park, some students are not only getting themselves ready to go back to school, but their children, too.
The high school, run by Association House, a United Way community partner, enrolls approximately 30 young parents who need childcare, a flexible schedule and additional services to support their learning. Teachers also work with students who may have slipped through the cracks at traditional public schools for a variety of reasons, including homelessness, chronic truancy, needing to work to provide for their families and substance use, said David Pieper, the school’s principal.
“We’re focused on reengaging at-risk and out-of-school youth,” David said. “These students come to us through word of mouth and referrals from other neighborhood agencies where there is a need for a wraparound service or there’s some sort of deficiency or lack of resource that needs to get fixed in order for that student to continue moving towards their high school diploma.”
Like traditional schools, Association House High School educates 150 students in math, English and history, among other studies. The school boasts a 90 percent graduation rate and is rated Level 1 by Chicago Public Schools.
But Association House teachers go beyond academics to address their students’ social and emotional needs outside of the classroom, like connecting them to childcare, housing, employment opportunities and mental health services.
“[During the enrollment process], every student will come in before they even step foot in the school and sit down with a counselor that says ‘Alright, what’s going on in your life? Let’s set a plan. Let’s identify where you might have barriers,’” David said. “If we don’t do that immediately, we will lose those students.”
What are wraparound supports for young parents?
For young parents like Yahaira Cortez, 17, the greatest barrier to earning her diploma was the prospect of attending classes without childcare for her son Damien. Weeks after giving birth, Yahaira was able to return to school with Damien, who enrolled in the Association House High School’s childcare program.
“I decided to come here because I had a kid at a really young age. But having a kid was no excuse. I still came to school, and I graduated a whole year earlier,” said Yahaira, who received her diploma last month. “It’s really nice. You get to see your kid throughout the day. You come down to change their diaper, you go to lunch with them, you feed them…You’re very involved with your kids even though you’re in school.”
Housed on the first floor of the 30-year-old school, the Family Literacy Program (FLP), the school’s childcare service funded in part by the United Way of Metro Chicago, provides flexibility for the young parents. Though a supervisor and volunteers are always on staff, in between and during classes, the students are expected to stop in to care for their child. They’re also encouraged to read to their children and attend literacy programs at the local library.
“At the very core of what the program is, we’re trying to get the parents to attend just one day of school. If we can get them to do that and then keep going every little step, then I think that’s huge for a lot of them,” said Sarah Schupbach, supervisor of the FLP.
In addition, students’ class schedules include parent workshops that teach them a range of life skills that benefit both them and their kids. Workshops include lessons on pregnancy and postpartum care, sexual health, goalsetting, child nutrition, building healthy relationships and how to find a job and childcare after graduation.
“We’re building relationships and showing them that there is a safe place that you can bring your child, where your child is loved and your child is learning, and where you are also learning and you’re accepted as a parent,” Sarah said.
Parent Success = Child Success
While stable childcare and regularly attending school are top priorities for the parents, the Family Literacy Program also addresses a generational issue many children of young parents face – educational delays. To address literacy and learning deficiencies, Sarah assesses their development and creates a curriculum tailored to the children’s individual needs.
Leslie Castro, another Association House High School alumna and young mom, brought her two kids to the FLP when she enrolled at the high school. At her last school, she received no class credit after three years, and one of her children suffered abuse at the home daycare he attended, she said.
Upon enrolling in the childcare program, her son was “behind on his speaking,” but he and his sister have progressed greatly since they arrived, Leslie said proudly.
“It was really hard for me, but when I came here to Association House it was really nice. It was a big thing now that I could spend time with my kids and be in school,” she added.
Reflecting on her time at the high school, Leslie said she especially appreciated the teachers’ involvement in her and her kids’ lives and the friendships she built with other moms.
“The teachers are awesome – they help you with everything. They really care about you, not just here in school but outside of school,” Leslie said. “In another school or maybe at your house, you don’t get that support.”
Most importantly, Leslie values the opportunities that a high school diploma will provide for her and her children, including her new administrative job at the high school.
“I thought I couldn’t make it and this year, when they gave me my diploma, it really meant something to me,” she said. “I’m really proud of myself. It was really worth it.”