In low-income communities in San Jose, attendance among students is extremely low at 67% compared to student attendance in affluent communities at 99%. Across the nation, the trend is reflected as enrollment numbers dropped for low-income students attending college this fall. On top of this, parenting students are facing increase in food insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness.
What does it take for a young mother continue her education in the season of COVID-19?
As seen with the young mothers participating in Teen Success, Inc., there is a gap in what schools provided in person – an escape from domestic violence, social interaction, WIFI, food, and at least some childcare options.
Now, with new shelter-in-place orders and rising COVID-19 cases, relief for teachers and students alike seems farther away than ever.
At least for now, navigating the barriers to education for young mothers and other low-income youth is about meeting basic needs first – shelter, food, income, safety. There are no solutions that offer zero risk.
Challenges of Distance Learning for Young Mothers
In-school learning means exposure for young mothers who return to multiple-family housing situations, and the ongoing challenge of securing safe, affordable childcare – a situation that’s become worse for young mothers as the pandemic drags on.
Distance learning means being saddled with the responsibility women have always primarily shouldered: caring for others. For many young women, this includes setting up their siblings for their own classes, feeding them, tending to their needs, and for young mothers, doing all of this while also caring for their own infants and toddlers– it’s no wonder that they don’t have time to attend their own classes.
Young mothers are often the primary breadwinners for themselves and their children and work for sub-poverty wages at essential jobs. For those who’ve lost their jobs, as many young mothers have, there’s the overwhelming uncertainty of when the next meal will come and how the rent is going to get paid.
“Compassion has not been present this year with COVID-19,” says Teen Success, Inc. Program and Partnership Manager, Niki Singleton, “especially for young families.”
While some schools have managed somehow to provide hot spots and technology, they’ve not lowered their expectations of their students or their teachers. Both students and teachers are expected to show up regardless of their circumstances at home.
These circumstances include lack of technology, domestic violence, extreme stress, food insecurity, and language barriers make it hard to be fully engaged in school.
Shaming and stigma persist around young mothers, and in some cases has worsened, because of distance learning. “It doesn’t matter how hard-working [a young mom] is – people see her having a child as a sentence."
Life for Young Families Beyond the Pandemic
Yet, through everything that has happened this year, young mothers at Teen Success, Inc. continue to look for the silver lining – experiencing life with their infants and doing whatever they can with what they have.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Singleton, reflecting on the lack of resources and support available to young parents, “even if she gets to spend time with her child, she’s still worried about how she’s going to pay the rent or where she’s going to live.”
Surviving as a young parent was hard before COVID-19 took over, and it has only gotten harder.
Teen Success, Inc. Advocates continue to be an essential resource for young mothers and their children through the heightened challenges brought on by the pandemic.
They drop off diapers and mommy-and-me kits to stimulate their participants’ children’s development; field crises such as loss of housing and food insecurity; and consistently infuse positivity, support, and planning to overcome the barriers to distance learning, so that beyond the pandemic, young mothers and their children will have a foundation from which to rebuild their lives.
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Empowering teen mothers, transforming lives
Teen Success, Inc. empowers young mothers to complete high school and persist through post-secondary education while nurturing their child’s positive development to ensure the success of the whole family.
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