Baby talk helps keep teenage moms in school
Leonardtown, Chopticon centers can now take staff’s infants and toddlers
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.marylandexcels.org 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.