“I graduated high school because of my son,” said Amber Anderson this morning, describing how giving birth to a child during her sophomore year of high school motivated her to take her education seriously and get on track to graduate. 

Although the most common social narrative is that when a high school student gets pregnant, her life is over (which people tend to apply to high school moms but not necessarily high school dads, I might add), stories from students like Amber turn the stereotype on its head. As she and other young mothers shared at today’s Hill briefing, sponsored by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, teen parents can and do succeed — especially with a little support. Each young woman agreed that having a child pushed them to finish high school. 

The briefing, held in honor of the 41st anniversary of Title IX, was called “Title IX, Pregnant and Parenting Students, and ESEA: Supporting Young Parents to Achieve Their Educational Goals.” It brought together teen parents, advocates, and service providers to explore the promise of Title IX’s protections for pregnant and parenting students and to explain the implications of the currently pending Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act (“PPSAE Act”). While Title IX prohibits pregnancy discrimination in federally-funded educational programs, as panelist Anurima Bhargava, Chief of the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice explained, many schools still push out students who get pregnant, in violation of the law. The PPSAE Act, as panelist Kimberly Inez McGuire of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explained, would “move us from equality under the law to implementation” by providing funding and a state/school district framework for the types of programs that help teen parents to succeed. 

Title IX, Pregnant and Parenting Students, and ESEA panelists and speakers
Panel: Dorinda Williams, Kimberly Inez McGuire, and moderator Lara S. Kaufmann (left to right)
Front row: Speakers Amber Anderson, Evelyn Diaz, and Britnee Sangalan
 (left to right)

Amber, along with current teen parents Evelyn Diaz and Britnee Sangalan and former teen parent Lisette Orellana, described how the PEARLS program offered by Crittenton Services of Greater Washington gave them the support, encouragement, and resources they needed to graduate from high school. Amber recalled that the program filled the void of unsupportive friends and family and even helped her get health insurance for her child. Britnee also described her success with the help of PEARLS and the New Heights Teen Parent Program offered by many D.C. public schools. Participating in New Heights and PEARLS gave Britnee the support she needed to graduate. It has helped many students, including Damieon Agee and Diamond Fields, who graduated this year and both will be attending the University of the District of Columbia in the fall. 

Title IX, Pregnant and Parenting Students, and ESEA panelists
Moderator Lara S. Kaufmann with panelists Lisette Orellana and Anurima Bhargava (left to right)

While programs like PEARLS and New Heights are essential, they depend on grants and therefore do not have consistent funding. The PPSAE Act would provide the funding that states and school districts desperately need so that more teen parents can have access to supportive programs and go on to achieve their dreams. Evelyn wants to be a teacher, Britnee is looking forward to applying for the Year Up program, and Amber dreams of being a state trooper and eventually owning her own bakery. Just as teen parents and advocates around the country have said in response to a recent ad campaign directed at teens that perpetuates harmful stereotypes, they are changing the world and changing diapers

Learn more about the PPSAE Act here