2012-11-29 / Schools

Pregnant teens get support, education in new program

By Kateri Wozny
Special to the Acorn


VITAL INFORMATION—Brenda Hunter, parent education instructor and coordinator of the new POWER Project, teaches a class for teen parents at the Conejo Valley Adult School’s Horizon Hills campus. The new program encourages young parents to finish high school. VITAL INFORMATION—Brenda Hunter, parent education instructor and coordinator of the new POWER Project, teaches a class for teen parents at the Conejo Valley Adult School’s Horizon Hills campus. The new program encourages young parents to finish high school. Teen pregnancy is a reality in Ventura County.

According to the Public Health Institute’s recent update of its No Time for Complacency report, the birth rate for young women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old in Ventura County in 2010 was 29.7 per 1,000 births. The national average in 2010 was 34.3 per 1,000 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet the topic of pregnant teens remains taboo in many circles, and few educational programs exist that cater directly to high school students who are parents.

One that does is Conejo Valley Adult School’s Positive Outcomes With Education and Respect (POWER) Project.

Approved by Conejo Valley Unified School District in March 2011, the independent study program began this year at CVAS’ Horizon Hills campus and will run year-round. It promotes high school completion, healthy adolescent development, better parenting skills, improved birth outcomes and more understanding of what teen parents and their children need, according to coordinator Eilene Green.

“(The class) gives them a really good support system and empowers them to be the best that they can be as a parent and a teenager,” Green said.

Topics that are covered in the program include pregnancy and newborns (which includes childbirth preparation and lactation support), baby care, parenting education, child development and teen parenting, which covers preparing for a child’s first year, adolescent development and child abuse prevention.

“We teach these skills to them so that in turn they can be better parents,” said Brenda Hunter, parent education instructor and coordinator of the POWER Project. “Horizon Hills is a great place to learn because there is a lot of other role modeling and observation taking place for social emotional support to the teen while she develops to become a better parent.”

Currently, four mothers and two fathers are participating in the program. They meet Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Horizon Hills campus. Once the teens complete the program with 80 hours of class work they receive high school academic credit.

“It’s good to show that they’re not stuck and that you can succeed in your own dreams and goals,” Hunter said. “Statistics have shown that a large percent of pregnant and parenting teen moms are impregnated by older males and many are left to care for their child alone.

“This potentially leads to a life of poverty, isolation and neglect. It’s important to know that they’re committed to their children. It will be a hard journey, but they can do it.”

At an upcoming class on Dec. 6, Corine Riedell, who took independent study classes at Horizon Hills when she was a pregnant young teen, will speak about her experiences and share her inspirational story. Riedell, 36, a resident of Thousand Oaks, is a single mother of three.

“At the time, I was not allowed to return to Newbury Park High School due to liability from my pregnancy with my oldest daughter,” Riedell said. “My independent study teacher Barbara Shannon and I were able to figure out a program that worked for me.”

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and a minor in biology from Cal Lutheran in 2008, Riedell decided to pursue her interest in medicine. Between 2009 and 2011, she traveled back and forth for two years to UC Davis, putting 60,000 miles on her car to study medicine.

“I would leave on a Sunday and come home Friday after class,” Riedell said. “The most difficult part was feeling guilty for abandoning my family. I would not have been able to do it if it wasn’t for my awesome kids and super helpful ex-husband.”

Riedell did clinical rotations in Modesto, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles before graduating in 2011.

She now works as a certified physician assistant at Wilkes Family Medicine in Newbury Park.

“The most important thing I want these teens to know is that everything is not lost,” Riedell said. “You can still do what you want to do in terms of career development, and being a good mother is not a statistic or negative connotation. You have to work hard for it, make the most out of yourself and be the best mother to your child and person that you can.”

The Conejo school district has pledged $5,000 a year to the program, and public support and donations are always welcome.

“We have had donations of baby clothes and other items needed by new parents,” Green said. “A professional organizer also helped sort and set up an attractive room so the girls could find infant clothes for their babies easily. The Louisville girls’ school senior service group painted the room. Furniture was donated for a living room appearance instead of a typical classroom.”

The Conejo Valley Adult School’s parent education program will host a Java, Jazz and Blues fundraiser from 2 to 5 p.m. Sun., Dec. 2 at the Horizon Hills campus, 33 Greta St., Thousand Oaks.

The fundraiser will help support pregnant and parenting teens in the community and provide transportation to and from class. Tickets are $15 each or $25 for two people. For more information, visit www.ConejoAdultSchool.org or call (805) 492-8837.

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