education.govt.nz

Raising children while chasing dreams

Issue: Volume 97, Number 5

Posted: 23 March 2018
Reference #: 1H9i4S

Student Mereana with baby Tory-Jason.Nestled under the trees next to Makoura College in Masterton, the Wairarapa Teen Parent Unit has a real whānau atmosphere.

With a roll of 23, the unit is a supportive environment for teenage mums and pregnant teenagers to continue with their education.

One of the mums, Mereana, started at the unit when she was 17 and 20 weeks pregnant. She says, “I came here with no qualifications but the support from teachers and the other girls has helped me achieve in education for the first time.”

In fact, Mereana has almost completed all her NCEA levels and wants to start a Bachelor of Social Work next year. “I was in a pretty dark place before I had my son and now I want to help youth – particularly young mums.”

The six teachers in the unit, five part-time and one full-time, and a full-time teacher aide, work closely with the students on their individual learning programmes, which are based on their career goals. Students can be working one-on-one with teachers, studying in groups and occasionally doing tertiary study with courses through the open polytechnic. Some also do work experience in line with their career goals, gaining practical experience in the community. 

The girls’ babies stay with them in the classroom until they are 12 weeks old, before moving to the Makoura Community Early Childhood Centre next door. Twenty-five of the 50 places in the centre are reserved for babies of mums studying at the unit. The rest are filled by children from the local community. “Knowing you can go and see your baby if you need to is a real bonus”, says Mereana.

The early childcare whānau are trusted teachers of the girls’ children and work closely with the girls to care for them; for example, they call when it’s time to breastfeed. Because holidays can be challenging for these young mums, particularly those working, the childcare centre stays open all year, apart from a short time at Christmas.

During the term, attendance can be an issue, impacting student learning, and the reasons can often be beyond a student’s control.

Teachers understand if a child is sick; their child is a student’s priority and because some of the girls live in poorly insulated housing, their babies can be more susceptible to illness. The key is providing intensive support when the student and their child returns so they can reset quickly and push on with their learning.

Students value this approach. Amber says, “It’s so different from school because the teachers understand that you can’t do everything every day.” This is echoed by her cousin Abby who started at the unit around the same time. She says simply: “The teachers care about us.”

Wairarapa head teacher Prue Smith with students Quanita, with baby Puhingaeteran

Wairarapa head teacher Prue Smith with students Quanita, with baby Puhingaeterangi, and Ruby with baby Ezmae.

Attending the unit is giving the girls opportunities they never thought they’d have. Ruby wants to be a paediatrician or diabetic nurse. “I was sick when I was little and I thought they were awesome.” Before coming to the unit, she didn’t think this type of career was possible. Now she’s studying towards qualifications in health and early childhood.

Established in 2002, the unit has been in its current location since 2005 and teachers have a close relationship with Makoura College. As part of their learning programmes, girls can take courses at the college including, chemistry, physics, Māori and performing arts.

As well as helping girls achieve their NCEA credits, the unit hosts antenatal and parenting classes to prepare students for motherhood. Midwives and social workers visit and support agencies such as Family Start and Youth Transition offer services such as budgeting advice.

The unit has been well supported with community grants, which have helped them purchase new laptops and fund the van that transports the girls and their babies. 

It’s tough being a pregnant teenager and a young mum and some of the girls don’t have a lot of support outside of the unit. Knowing that the van is picking them up and they will be learning and supported by the whānau at the unit provides a level of motivation that may not have existed before. This range of supports provided at the unit is life changing for some.

Moving to Masterton after becoming pregnant, Ariana didn’t expect to continue her education but now wants to be a lawyer. Ariana says, “Becoming a mum to Jasmine has motivated me to do more; I instantly changed when I had her.”

The teachers have helped Ariana develop goals and a plan to achieve them. Shy and reserved, she has grown in confidence, including talking publicly for the first time as student rep. She is achieving ‘excellence’ and as a perfectionist is happy with that.

Mereana says she held her head low when she arrived and found it extremely difficult to settle in. However, she is now far more confident and knows that it’s up to her to create a good future for her children. She says, “The teachers helped me grow more confident in myself and not feel as judged as I had been before.”

Mereana sums up being a young mum: “My son saved my life: when he came into the picture it wasn’t just about me anymore.”

Learning at the unit involves a range of education experiences that are helping these young mums and their children become more confident, positive contributors to society.

The teachers are dedicated and committed to making sure these girls get a good education and are sometimes the sounding board or support structures outside the unit as well. They agree the reward is seeing them achieve and having past students come back and talk about their successes.

The girls at this unit have some hard work ahead of them but after this visit, it’s clear there are more successes to come.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:10 pm, 23 March 2018

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