for Pregnant Girls: A Historical Perspective
in 1965, a school was founded to help deal with the growing phenomena
of infant mortality and premature births among teen mothers in
the most depressed areas of New York City. Schools for Pregnant
Girls sought to solve the most crucial question faced by the growth
of teen pregnancy in the city school system: How could the city
effectively educate young teens while helping them to tend to
the health and emotional needs of their children?
The Schools for Pregnant Girls came about when the Children’s
Bureau, in 1964, gave a grant to the Health Insurance Plan of
Greater New York to create the Upper Manhattan Maternity Project
after they had performed separate studies on teen pregnancy that
shed light on the growing problem.
First, the Children’s Bureau cited a national report by the Bureau
of Statistics that showed approximately seven million people in
the United States were listed as having been born out of wedlock
and many were receiving some form of welfare. Furthermore, reports
carried out by Fern Jaffe, Case Consultant for Health Insurance
Plan of Greater New York, related another alarming fact that young
unmarried mothers were at an exceptionally “high-risk” due to
their reluctance to seek care during their pregnancy.
With this in mind, various educators sought to create an environment
in which teens and mothers would feel safe so that their educational
needs and the health needs of their children would be met.
The primary problem that needed to be solved in educating teens
was simply class attendance. Though many of the girls who were
referred to the Health Insurance Plan of Greater NY came from
a variety of sources, the largest group, one hundred and thirty
two to be exact, were referred mainly by the NYC Board of Education’s
Bureau of Attendance. Enlightened educators understood that all
children between the ages of five and seventeen were entitled
to an education, however up until the early 1960s, until Arthur
Clinton, director of the Bureau of Attendance, amended the rules,
any female who was pregnant could be discharged from attending
school due to her inability to participate in physical activities.
In this atmosphere of prejudice and in an era that was not tolerant
of pre-marital sexual relations, let alone teen pregnancy, teen
girls were often intimidated from continuing with their education.
Many feared that they would be ridiculed by their teachers, as
well as their classmates.
That is when the Upper Manhattan Maternity Project (UMMP) embarked
on a housing solution. “Housing,” according to Henri A. Belfon,
then the Division Supervisor of Attendance, “would create an atmosphere
where teens could easily attend class without fear of harassment
and have their educational and health needs met.”
What is more important, the UMMP sought to provide pregnant girls
and young mothers, who had been severely damaged by negative life
experiences, a totally new and positive life experience in order
to improve their self-esteem, help them cope with motherhood,
and improve their performance in school.
A committee consisting of Fern Jaffe and Henri A. Belfon, met
with Alice Arrington director of the Harlem YWCA to see if the
“Y” could provide space. Arrington and the other “Y” officials
eventually agreed to provide four rooms to help pregnant teens
with their education and the care of their children. Two of the
rooms were to be used as classrooms, another for medical and nursing
and a last for a large nursery. This was all done to comply with
a basic tenet of the New York State Education Law that stated
all children have a natural right to an education.#
Belfon, a pioneer in education for pregnant teens, shares his
views next month in our continuing coverage.
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.