Baby talk helps keep teenage moms in school

Leonard­town, Chop­ti­con cen­ters can now take staff’s in­fants and tod­dlers

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JACQUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­

In­tended to help teen par­ents stay in school, two of the three Baby Talk cen­ters at St. Mary’s pub­lic high schools can also take in chil­dren of school staff de­pend­ing on avail­abil­ity. This year is the first the Chop­ti­con and Leonard­town cen­ters are also open to staff mem­bers who teach at nearby el­e­men­tary or mid­dle schools.

Kelly Hall, pub­lic schools’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of sup­ple­men­tal school ser­vices, said in an email ear­lier this month that each cen­ter at Chop­ti­con, Great Mills

and Leonard­town high schools can take up to six chil­dren rang­ing in age from 6 weeks to 2 years. The Baby Talk cen­ters have been pro­vid­ing for the school dis­trict “for more than two decades,” Hall said.

Tammy Par­sons, Chop­ti­con and Leonard­town Baby Talk pro­gram di­rec­tor, said Mon­day this is “a lean year for teen moth­ers” adding that there isn’t a wait­ing list at the Leonard­town cen­ter. There are cur­rently four ba­bies each at Great Mills and Leonard­town cen­ters, and at least two at the Chop­ti­con cen­ter.

“Teens are our first pri­or­ity,” Par­sons said, adding that the Baby Talk pro­gram is “a ser­vice for the stu­dents.”

Stacy Kent, Great Mills High School Baby Talk cen­ter di­rec­tor, said there are typ­i­cally more teen par­ents at Great Mills. She said she’s ex­pect­ing up to five new ba­bies to be en­rolled through­out the rest of the school year.

Al­though most chil­dren age out of the cen­ter pro­gram af­ter their sec­ond birth­day, Kent said the chil­dren of teen par­ents can re­main en­rolled at the cen­ter un­til the par­ent grad­u­ates.

Nurs­ing moth­ers, no mat­ter if they have a child en­rolled in the pro­gram, also have a space to pump breast milk when needed, Par­sons said.

At each of the cen­ters, ba­bies and tod­dlers have a large play area with toys and books. De­pend­ing on their de­vel­op­ment, chil­dren can take their nap time in cribs or cots. The rooms are col­or­fully dec­o­rated, and chil­dren have in­di­vid­ual stor­age spa­ces for sup­plies like ex­tra clothes, di­a­pers and other items.

Re­sources are also avail­able for teen par­ents who might strug­gle to pro­vide for their child. Kent said do­na­tions like new and gen­tly used toys and cloth­ing are wel­come, and teen par­ents of­ten give back what their tod­dlers grow out of to help oth­ers.

Hall said staff use The Frog Street In­fant and

Tod­dler cur­ricu­lum to craft les­son plans, and sup­ple­ment with other Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion rec­om­mended re­sources in­clud­ing Healthy Be­gin­nings and Cre­ative Cur­ricu­lum.

Chil­dren also de­velop their cre­ative skills through fin­ger paint­ing and play­ing out­side at play­grounds just for them, Par­sons said.

Hall said staff cre­ate daily sched­ules for the chil­dren based on in­di­vid­ual check­lists of phys­i­cal, per­sonal, so­cial, lan­guage and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment.

Staff also work in­di­vid­u­ally with teen par­ents to en­sure they’re in school ev­ery day “and can grad­u­ate,” Par­sons said.

Hall said stu­dents with the Teacher Acad­emy of Mary­land classes also per­form ob­ser­va­tions ap­pro­pri­ate to their class­work, and high school stu­dents can sat­isfy their Child De­vel­op­ment II in­tern­ship re­quire­ments by ob­serv­ing and work­ing with pro­gram staff.

Stu­dent aides also re­ceive a cer­tifi­cate at the end of the school year in-

di­cat­ing how many hours they worked with in­fants and tod­dlers, Hall said. “This time can be ap­plied to­ward the ex­pe­ri­ence sec­tion when ap­ply­ing for their Per­son­nel Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Card from the Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Of­fice of Child Care,” she said.

Stu­dents in­ter­ested in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion can also get high school credit for work­ing in Baby Talk through stu­dent ser­vice learn­ing, Hall said.

Hall said teen par­ents pay “a nom­i­nal fee de­pen­dent on their so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus.” She said dis­counted rates are avail­able to those who have

“good grades and ex­cel­lent at­ten­dance.” School staff who en­roll their chil­dren pay about $180 a week for their chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate.

Ba­bies of teen par­ents are not counted as St. Mary’s pub­lic school stu­dents, Hall said, but staff keep records of the ba­bies’ at­ten­dance, health needs and other in­for­ma­tion. “Di­a­per­ing is recorded [and] the types of ac­tiv­i­ties the child par­tic­i­pated in that day are noted,” she said. Staff re­port to par­ents at the end of each day re­gard­ing their child’s be­hav­ior and ac­tiv­i­ties at the cen­ter, Hall said.

Hall said the Baby Talk pro­grams part­ner with other early child­hood pro­grams like the Judy Cen­ter, Head Start, and the pub­lic schools’ prekinder­garten classes. She said “teen par­ents are in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in the Judy Cen­ter’s Par­ent Cafes and other par­ent work­shops such as [those about] con­scious dis­ci­pline.”

Kent said the Baby Talk pro­gram is “com­pletely funded” by the pub­lic schools’ bud­get and fees paid by par­ents.

See www.mary­lan­dex­ to as­sess the qual­ity of St. Mary’s Baby Talk Cen­ters or other area day cares.


Andrew Beyer, left, 15 months, looks up Mon­day while eat­ing ravi­oli, mixed veg­eta­bles and ap­ple­sauce while Bai­ley Mills, 3, looks at him at the Baby Talk cen­ter at Leonard­town High School.

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