This just in: a fresh stack of Santa Fe High School yearbooks, touted as “200 pages of awesome!” on the district’s website. But one group of students is feeling left out of the celebration: teen moms, whose traditional page of mother-child photos has been omitted from the mix this year.
“It was somewhat hurtful,” senior Naomi Roque told KOAT, who said the photos were something she and other teen moms looked forward to each year. “That’s an opportunity for us to look back and show our kids this time that we’re going through.” She’s also liked the idea of inspiring other young mothers. “I think for other kids who are struggling,” she said, “they can see: If they can do it with a baby, then I can do it.”
But district chief of staff Latifah Phillips tells Yahoo Parenting the slight was just a simple “misunderstanding” — and the result, ironically, of a policy change the high school hopes will be more beneficial to students who are also raising children.
“It definitely was not any kind of statement the school or district was making,” Phillips says. “Our intent is to give the teens the best high school education they can get while still being parents.”
Here’s how the accidental exclusion came about, she explains: For many years, Santa Fe High ran a program that separated teen moms out into their own classroom at the Teen Parent Center. There, the students not only received parenting support and childcare services, but a high school education through a blend of online classes and the presence of one teacher covering all subject areas. Being in that separate program was what got them automatically photographed as a special group for the yearbook each year.
But, Phillips notes, “We were concerned they weren’t getting the same educational opportunities.” So as of this year, all teen parents have been integrated into regular classrooms — while still receiving parenting and other life-skills support through the center, as well as through a newly offered elective class.
“The yearbook coordinator and committee misunderstood, because it’s no longer a separate program,” she says. Therefore none of the teen moms were notified of the change. But going forward, Phillips pledges, “the teen parents, like any student group, can categorize themselves” and request a special page of photos in the yearbook.
The teen pregnancy rates in both Santa Fe County and the state of New Mexico are higher than the national average — 23 per 1,000 and 26.3 per 1,000 respectively, as compared to 15.4 nationally, according to the latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health. While Phillips was not certain of the average rate in Santa Fe High School, which serves about 1,500 students, past yearbooks have had about 10 to 13 moms pictured with their kids.
“It’s a shame that these young mothers who are undoubtedly working heroically to complete their education while taking on the challenging task for being a parent were excluded from the yearbook,” Bill Albert, spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Teen mothers need and deserve our love and support, not exclusion.”
But, he adds, “Job No. 1 for schools is to help ensure that pregnant and parenting teens complete their education.” Only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before 18 get their high school diploma by age 22, Albert points out, with 30 percent who have dropped out of high school citing pregnancy or parenthood as a reason.
Schools grappling with students who are parents or moms-to-be have been known to spark yearbook controversies in the recent past. In 2013, a North Carolina school banned a photo of student Caitlin Tiller and her infant. That same year, a Michigan high school edited out full-body shots of two pregnant students, causing one to cry in the bathroom after seeing her cropped image. In 2014, meanwhile, an Arizona high school yearbook’s photo spread of teen parents provoked uproar when critics saw it as being too celebratory.
Albert says that it can be tricky balance. “Schools can be in a delicate spot when it comes to sex, pregnancy, and parenthood,” he notes. “Again, job No. 1 is to make sure that teen parents feel fully welcomed in the school and that they are provided every opportunity to fulfill their academic goals. However, the schools do not want to inadvertently send the signal that early pregnancy and parenting are no big deal.”