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State program helps put teen parents on path to success

GRADS helps teen moms and dads, expecting parents work on dual-role skills while still in school

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: December 19, 2016, 6:05am
4 Photos
From left to right, Stephanie Watson and her son, Zaine Post; Vanessa Toscano and her daughter, Jaylah Castro; and Fanny Lopez and her daughter, Alexandra Lopez, read together Dec. 13 during story time in the GRADS program at Evergreen High School. A recent state study found that for every dollar invested in the program, students benefit by three times as much. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
From left to right, Stephanie Watson and her son, Zaine Post; Vanessa Toscano and her daughter, Jaylah Castro; and Fanny Lopez and her daughter, Alexandra Lopez, read together Dec. 13 during story time in the GRADS program at Evergreen High School. A recent state study found that for every dollar invested in the program, students benefit by three times as much. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Evergreen High School teacher Peggy McNabb didn’t need a study to know the class she teaches to teen parents is a success. After all, she hears from students who have gone on to graduate, gone to college and live successfully every week.

But the validation doesn’t hurt.

McNabb is a GRADS teacher for Evergreen Public Schools. The Graduation, Reality and Dual Role Skills program serves teen moms and expecting parents. New data on the program from a Washington State Institute for Public Policy study indicates the state’s investment in the program is paying off. GRADS students graduate at a 10.6 percent higher rate than their fellow teen parents by age 22, and have a 6.5 percent higher rate of pursuing post-secondary education by age 24.

“We’re very thankful this study was done,” McNabb said as her students played with their babies at the high school’s neighboring day care center.

McNabb’s class is all girls this year, although teen dads and expecting fathers are also eligible to participate.

The institute also estimates that while the average per-student cost for teen parents to access GRADS is about $7,588, students receive about $22,839 in benefits. That’s a benefit-cost ratio of $3 to $1.

12 Photos
Jasmine Aragon, left, holds Aria Hernandez while Stacy Salyers, right, holds Xavier Aragon-Smith during the story time class in the GRADS program at Evergreen High School, Tuesday December 13, 2016. GRADS, which stands for Graduation Reality and Dual Role Skills, is a program developed for any pregnant or parenting high school student. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
GRADS Program at Evergreen High School Photo Gallery

Denise Mileson is the GRADS program specialist for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. When putting those figures into layman’s terms, she said that because students who participate in the program are more likely to graduate high school, they’re more likely to be employed and not depend on public assistance programs. They’re also more likely to be in good health, preventing costly health procedures.

“The GRADS program in the long run is saving them money,” she said. “It leads these young parents to successful parenting. There are no perfect parents out there, but they’re doing a darn good job.”

According to OSPI, the program is offered at 23 districts statewide with support from OSPI and the Washington Department of Health. The program is at two high schools in Clark County: Evergreen High School and Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver Public Schools.

In her role as the GRADS teacher, McNabb helps her students navigate the challenges of parenthood, supporting them while they complete high school and providing resources as they prepare for post-secondary education or the work force. Students also receive access to free child care, allowing them to continue school, and a slew of donations of diapers, food and other supplies.

It’s McNabb’s goal to make the students financially independent, so they can have jobs beyond high school and support their children without relying on public assistance.

“Without child care, most of these students would not be in school,” McNabb said. “What they get back because they’re staying in school is huge.”

Vanessa Toscano, an 18-year-old senior, has been in the program since she became pregnant her freshman year. Her 2-year-old daughter, Jaylah, romped around the high school’s day care center, grabbing at soap bubbles and singing with her mom.

Toscano felt isolated upon finding out she was pregnant. She was teased, bullied and struggled to navigate how the pregnancy changed her relationship with her mother.

But now, she’s slated to graduate on time and attend Clark College. She hopes to become a nurse.

Toscano said the resources offered by the program have helped her succeed in school.

“It got me through the bullying part,” she said. “It’s a fun environment.”

Jazmin Cuevas, a 17-year-old senior, babbled at her 8-month-old son, Raynaldo, as she bounced him. Cuevas attends iQ Academy online and enrolled in GRADS a few weeks ago seeking support raising her son. So far, the program has already allowed her to catch up on her grades while accessing food, clothes and supplies for her son.

“Take as much help as you can,” Cuevas advised. “At the end of the day, you can’t do it yourself, no matter how confident you are.”

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