Jamaica school for pregnant teens to stay open

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Teachers and students at a Jamaica high school for pregnant and parenting teens have spent the last few weeks packing, worrying and fighting to keep their site open after hearing that the city Department of Education planned to close it.

But Tuesday, just two days before the end of the school year, the Ida B. Wells School community won a reprieve, learning that the site, which features free day care and parenting classes, will remain open.

"We will be here in September," said one teacher, who asked that her name not be used.

The Ida B. Wells School, at 166-02 Jamaica Ave., was one of four citywide sites that would have closed if the city had dissolved the Program for Pregnant and Parenting Services as it had planned, said social studies teacher Terry Villani. The program and the schools are part of the Alternative High Schools District.

The teachers and students first learned earlier this month that their school might be closed, when the principal, who oversees all four schools, announced the closure, according to another teacher who declined to give her name. The program was to be reorganized into a therapeutic service center to include students with drug addictions, abusive situations and prison records, she said.

"We want to be involved in the reorganization," she said. "We, the teachers, are the front line, rather than the administration."

Department of Education spokesman Paul Rose said the department was looking at ways to restructure its alternative high schools, but the school and the parenting program would be in place in September.

      "We are exploring ways to serve students in search of alternative services," he said. "There will be some changes."

      Rose would not comment on possible changes.

The Department of Education cited the school's poor attendance record as one of the reasons, the teacher said. The school has a 51.2 percent attendance rate, compared with a 72.9 percent rate in other alternative high schools and 82.5 percent at regular schools, according to Department of Education statistics.

But the attendance figures do not take the Ida B. Wells students' special circumstances into account, the teacher said. Students are required to complete prenatal physicals and often miss classes for doctor appointments, she said. Nor do the statistics include time away from school to give birth.

"They always point to our attendance as a problem," she said. "We have the same standards as other schools even though our students have to go to clinic appointments and other things."

The teachers and students were able to keep the school open through next year, but it might still be susceptible to reorganization plans, the teacher said.

The Ida B. Wells school opened more than 30 years ago, when school policy prohibited pregnant girls from attending regular classes, the teacher said. Although the policy has been abandoned, the Jamaica school has about 200 female students.

"It's good it's staying open," said senior Ivette Bautista. "When I was pregnant, I didn't know what I was going to do. Me and all my friends graduated because of this school."

Bautista, 19, of Brooklyn, brings her 17-month-old son to the Living for the Young Family through Education, or LYFE, day care program while she attends classes. In addition to the basic curriculum found in other schools, Ida B. Wells students also take parenting courses, a teacher said.

"This tells me, Christine, you do not have to quit," said junior Christine Lugo, of Jamaica. "Now I have a baby-sitter and I can continue my education. I couldn't afford to hire a baby-sitter without this."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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