School for pregnant girls facing elimination

Lady Pitts High School, an alternative school for pregnant teens, may soon be shut down. Photo by Cy Kondrick/cy.kondrick@marquette.edu

The mission of Lady Pitts High School is similar to any public secondary education institution — to provide the environment and resources for students to become successful learners in their school and world.

At Lady Pitts, though, there are a couple important requirements: students must be in at least sixth grade­ and they must be pregnant.

Now, however, the 105 high school girls enrolled will have to find alternative schools by June, as the Innovation and School Reform Committee, a subsidiary of the Milwaukee Public School’s board of directors, voted 4-0 in favor of closing the school at a meeting on Jan. 11. The board is seeking new service methods by integrating students into mainstream schools in the district. A final vote will be taken at the  meeting on Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

The school for expectant mothers aged 12 to 21 has been in existence since 1966 and currently resides at 5075 N. Sherman Blvd. in the lower level of Custer High School, according to Milwaukee Public Schools.

The primary reasons for shutting down operations seem to point to a below-average 67 percent attendance rate and consistently low grade-point-averages, nearly a half point below average this year, MPS said.

Though little research has been done in Milwaukee to compare the benefits of such an alternative school to mainstream high schools, MPS is determined to improve the numbers. MPS spokesperson Phillip Harris  is confident that a new approach is necessary.

“It’s not just about the closing,” Harris said, “but about improving the educational and health service delivery models.”

Focus groups made of students, parents and other concerned parties played key roles in shaping the new approach, Harris said. In addition to providing a place to complete academic requirements, the school staffs two social workers, a guidance counselor, a school psychologist and a full-time nurse to address a range of physical and emotional needs, according to its website.

Thursday’s final vote will determine if and how these services will continue, and thus shape how students will make the transition back to traditional MPS schooling. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, students with a child by the age of 18 have a 40 percent chance of earning a high school diploma.

Sharon Hudy, administrator of the Women’s Care Center of Milwaukee, a non-profit pregnancy resource center, said the WCC offers free testing, counseling and parenting classes.

“We want to get them on the road to self-sufficiency and take care of their babies as best as they can,” Hudy said.

Hudy believes more resources are needed for young moms to be with peers and relate with each other. She also stressed the importance of ongoing communication with the schools.

“We can certainly be that external support outside school,” Hudy said.

The Marquette counseling center deals with the early stages of unplanned pregnancies and serves to direct students to further resources.

Lynn O’Brien, coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Services at Marquette, cited several difficulties afflicting pregnant students, including affordable health care, attending class and balancing an academic load with physical needs.

“The stress of studying and trying to make decisions can be overwhelming,” O’Brien said in an e-mail. “It can be hard to talk to their peers about it because they simply don’t understand.”