Lillian, Iris, and Ana—each a teen mother, each has successfully completed her school year. Blanca, Carmen, Moritza—three teenage mothers officially withdrawn from school. The rate of teenage childbearing among Puerto Ricans has not changed significantly over the past decade; as with other white and non-white children, I have observed at Lee High School an increase in the number of mothers who are thirteen to fifteen years old, a decrease in the older teens. What has changed, and dramatically so in the last few years, is the number of Puerto Rican young women who attempt to remain in school through their pregnancies and after the babies are born.
The Puerto Rican young mothers seem to fall into three categories. Many marry as soon as they are pregnant (or are suspected to be pregnant or feared to have lost their virginity) and drop out of school immediately. A number continue in school during the pregnancy with excellent attendance, are consistently highly motivated, are high achievers academically and form close relationships with teachers and supportive staff; they attend right up to the time of delivery but as soon as the babies are born, contact with school ends abruptly and the mothers become drop-outs. The third group, albeit a small one, remain in school after their babies are born; following high school graduation, some go on to post high school vocational or college programs. The student-mothers in this group must survive a very stressful time right after their babies are born—torn between demands of family and home—school and the world outside. Attendance may be sporadic for a time and the obstacles and dilemmas will continue daily (especially when they return to the comprehensive high schools), but they, quote unquote, make it. The student-mother in this final group re-entering the regular high school must make a social adjustment to peers, former and new teachers, the guidance staff and administrators. She must cope with the anonymity which accompanies attending a school with 1200 students (while McCabe School for Young Mothers had approximately 70), adhere to attendance and tardy policies for all students, and adjust her self-image to being a student for six hours a day. Daily she experiences conflict as struggles with her dual development—as an adolescent and as a mother.
My interest in developing a unit about the Puerto Rican young mothers derives from a feeling that the school system is the last formal institutional link with education for the young Puerto Rican mothers, especially those in the second group. If we lose this young mother during her pregnancy or shortly thereafter, she will most likely remain forever educationally and economically behind; at age 13, 14, or 15, we are committing a young family to a life time or poverty. In five years, this child enters the school system and within ten years we will encounter this student in our junior and senior high classrooms. While there must also be collaboration with community health and social service agencies, the classroom provides the opportunity for primary prevention of social problems (unemployment, delinquency, pregnancy) and for intervention where and when these problems exist.