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Teen parents feel the struggle, and the love

Adelante High School program helps teens adjust to parenthood
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Teens learn decision making in Granite Bay High School sex-ed class

One common thread winding its way through health classes taught at Granite Bay High School: good decision making.

As freshmen learn about drugs and alcohol, body image issues, sleep disorders, nutrition and more, they’re taught to develop their own set of morals and make decisions based on those values.

This is critical, especially when it comes to a teenager’s sexuality, said Granite Bay High School health teacher Terry Stafford,

“Nothing in life affects your future more than making a bad sexual decision,” he said.

California Content Standards require all public high school students to take health class and learn sex education as freshmen or sophomores. Roseville Joint Union High School District does this freshmen year. Teachers also address this topic in elementary school and eighth grade.

Parents can remove their children from class during the sex education unit, which rarely happens, Stafford said.

During the roughly two weeks spent on the unit, the teacher covers essential concepts such as conception, characteristics of healthy relationships, laws related to sexual behavior and the involvement of minors, and abstinence as the most effective method for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

Teenagers tend to ask the most questions about STDs, Stafford said. Students “see what they look like” and learn about long-term effects.

“It’s impactful,” Stafford said. “They say, ‘OK, we’ve seen enough.’ But they need to know.”

He begins and ends the unit with how sex is about sharing bodily fluids, which can contain viruses and make a woman pregnant.

“Every (teacher) attacks it a little bit differently,” he said. “What I want to do is I want to wake them up to think about what do you want to do with your own body?”

They have lots of questions about anatomy and how easy it is to get pregnant. Educators also talk about how alcohol inhibits decision making and can put people in compromising situations.

Local parents seem to do a good job of talking to their children about the birds and the bees, but need to be more aware of what their teens are doing, said Stafford who has taught health on and off for 33 years.

“Teens are teens,” Stafford said. “What has changed is the number of STDs.”

~ Sena Christian

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Sex education in RJUHSD:

All freshmen are required to complete one semester of health and safety class. Teachers cover:

Anatomy and physiology of male and female reproductive systems

Reproduction: sperm, egg, ovulation, fertilization, implantation, pregnancy, labor and delivery

Birth control devices, with a focus on abstinence

Sexually transmitted disease, HIV and AIDS

Sexual responsibility: understanding the consequences of being sexually active as a teen

Source: Kathie Sinor, health teacher at Granite Bay High School

 

When Patricia Barrera’s 1-year-old son, Aidan, came down with a cold in November, she stayed home for a whole week to care for him.

That meant she missed out on a week’s worth of schoolwork.

She’s already tired all the time and looking after a sick child was an added challenge. Barrera, 18, is a teen mom. She’s one of five young mothers in the Teen Parent Program at Adelante High School in Roseville. There’s also one dad. For Barrera and her peers, being a parent while still emotionally and mentally developing into an adult has been a difficult adjustment.

“You learn a lot from (your child) and you become more responsible and you experience lots of things,” Barrera said. “It’s easy and it’s hard at the same time because we’re still kids, too. We’re not adults … we don’t know everything and it gets frustrating. But then you see his smile and it makes you happy.”

The Teen Parent Program began in 1984 and two years later, Najla Dornhofer was hired at Adelante. She now serves as coordinator and runs the campus Infant Toddler Learning Program with Christine McPherson, who joined in 2003.

“You can ask me what teen parents were like in 1986 and what they’re like now and it’s all pretty much the same,” Dornhofer said.

The program typically has about six or seven students. Sometimes, there are young women waiting until they give birth to join. The teens must abide by what’s expected of them, Dornhofer said.

For Crystal Lopez, 17, that involves throwing some clothes on herself and her 2-year-old son, Antonio, each weekday morning, grabbing a banana for her son and catching the bus to Adelante.

Once on campus, she’s expected to drop off her son on time, change his diaper, wash his hands and get him ready for the day. Breakfast, lunch and drinks are provided by the parent. Lopez must master her parenting skills not only for Antonio’s well-being, but also because she’s six months pregnant with her second child.

“It’s exciting being a parent,” she said. “At first, I was scared and nervous.”

Lopez gets a lot of support from her mom and the father of her child, she said.

That’s not the case for Melissa Perez, 18, in caring for her 2-year-old son, Lamberto. She is estranged from her mother, and although she lives with her son’s father — who provides financially for the family — she feels the heavy burden of raising her child.

“I do everything by myself,” Perez said.

Brenda Heredia, 18, can relate. The Antelope resident wakes up at 6 a.m. to get herself and her 18-month-old son, Alexander, ready for the day. After school, she works part-time at a Mexican restaurant. The baby’s father is no longer in the picture.

But once the teen moms arrive at Adelante, they get much-needed support through the Teen Parent Program, which accepts infants at 6 weeks old and toddlers until about 3 years old in its Infant Toddler Learning Program.

The children learn numbers, early literacy, science, creative expression, discipline and socialization. The teens, meanwhile, take an hour-long parenting class each day. Unless the mother is breastfeeding, the parent is not supposed to visit her child in between classes.

“I think the biggest thing (covered in class) is nutrition,” Dornhofer said. “You can’t just say don’t eat fast-food … not every parent can do that. So if they have pizza, let’s make a salad to go with that.”

The students tend to ask lots of questions about anatomy and how their bodies work. Most of the young women wish their parents had talked to them about birth control and the reality of pregnancy and parenthood.

“I just wish I waited,” Perez said, adding that her mom never told her about protection. She only lectured her to not have sex.

The girls all want to graduate high school and get a job. Perez wants to buy a car — none of the teens own one and Dornhofer sometimes drives them to doctor appointments. Heredia wants to attend cosmetology school. Lopez hopes to get a job with FedEx, but only part-time so she can be home with her growing family.

“I don’t want to miss out on anything,” she said.