No GED, No Aid

By: Priscilla Bustamante

As of July 1, 2012, students lacking a high school diploma or GED no longer qualify for federal financial aid to attend college. Previously, these students could enroll in college-level courses and qualify for the student aid to pay for them by passing the Ability to Benefit (ATB) test or successfully completing six credits. Now the ATB option is no longer available.

It is estimated that some 90,000 community college students (about 1%) qualify for Pell Grants based on ATB provisions, and that middle-aged students and immigrants will feel its effects most. A study form the National Center for Education Statistics found that 67% of first-time college students in 2003 without a high school diploma or GED didn’t earn a college credential within six years. However, in the same amount of time, 66% of students with a GED also didn’t earn a degree or certificate. While the college graduation rates of students without a high school diploma or GED are low, they are not necessarily any different from those students who already have their GED. Moreover, in a U.S. Department of Education study, students who earned their ATB by passing six credits had a slightly higher grade point average than students with high school diplomas.

Many community colleges view enrolling students without a diploma or GED as part of their mission to provide access to higher education for all. If these students now have to get a GED before going to college, with no financial help available to them in the meantime, it is likely that this 1% will decline higher education altogether. Even worse, they may turn to private loans, or to for-profit training institutes which routinely target low-income students without a high school diploma or GED, and coerce them into paying for a degree that is not equivalent to a college credential. While the hope is that this change will encourage students to get their diplomas or GEDs as soon as they can, this option may not be altogether realistic for the students most affected by this federal budget cut.

In the larger scheme of things, the ATB elimination will save about $455 million dollars a year at the expense of a small percentage of people; however, this 1% represents some of America’s most underserved and least privileged students. While BYMC strongly encourages its members to stay in high school or obtain their GED, there are still young mothers who comprise this 1%. Do they not deserve a chance for higher education to create the best futures for themselves and their children? As Daniel Luzer, editor of the Washington Monthly suggests, “If one really wanted to save money in the federal budget through education reform there are other, more dramatic, options. Preventing for-profit colleges from using federal financial aid, for instance, could save about $24 billion.”

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A Mother’s Right To Not Choose: An Education or A Healthful Pregnancy

By: Zoe Feld

In an effort to better understand the roadblocks young mothers face in the pursuit of their education, Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective has contacted 17 clinic- and hospital-based teen pregnancy programs located throughout the United States. Speaking with these programs, including 9 based out of New York state, has granted insight into what services are typically available to young mothers, and how accessible these services truly are. In an ideal situation, pregnant teenagers and high school aged mothers would not have to choose between doing what is best for their families and what is best for their futures. But today, education often falls to the position of lowest priority when a young mother is faced with attending to prenatal health and supporting a family. When prenatal appointment times are inflexible and waiting times for these appointments are significant, failure of a clinic or program to be mindful of the student-status of their patients can be fatal to the educational career of young mothers. Often, morning and weekday appointments result in repeated full days of classes being missed during a time when each day of high school is critical to student learning. In instances where missed classes lead to falling behind in lessons, and falling behind raises chances of dropping out (about 30% of high school dropouts report that they were falling behind in their classes), a young mother’s decision to place her maternal health first can result in great long term damage.

The consequence of a high school education to a family’s long term wellbeing was related in BYMC’s Blog post “The Importance of High School Graduation”:

 Many of today’s high school dropouts are struggling to make ends meet. Over a lifetime, students who are unable to finish high school earn an average of $200,000 less than their peers who graduate from high school and $800,000 less than their peers who graduate from college. Students who are unable to complete high school comprise about half of the heads of households on welfare, and many of these households are headed by women who were teenage parents.

Prenatal health and a high school education – both of utmost importance – should never have to compete for a place in a young mother’s life. Thankfully, a number of clinics and teen pregnancy programs operate based upon this principle. They understand the conundrum high school aged mothers face and they work in an effort to obliterate any need to choose one over the other.  Some programs, such as the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Midwifery Group, work with local school schedules to set aside appointment times for young mothers to take place after school hours. Wyckoff Hospital (Women’s Health Clinic) and Woodhull Medical Center  (OB Clinic) offer weekday appointments as late as 6:30pm and 8:00pm respectively, so that high-school-aged mothers can schedule prenatal appointments that will not interrupt with class times. MIC Fort Green offers services on Saturdays and until 5pm on weekdays, but when hospital visits are required patients often experience visits where appointment times may not be as flexible. The Brookdale Clinic, while not specifically tailored to serve teen moms, has weekend and evening clinic hours which are open to all patients. Outside of New York, the Adolescent Family Life Program in Madera, California goes so far as providing at-home visits to the young mothers they work with as late as 6pm, promising to work around the schedule of each individual.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bellevue Clinic, although catering to high-school-aged mothers under 18 years old, only offers appointments on Monday mornings. The teen obstetrics department at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center (NJ) similarly offers only weekday morning appointments, most often scheduled for 8AM. The Teenage Program at Queens Hospital Center normally schedules 8:30 AM appointments, but attempts some flexibility with offering afternoon appointments on a case-by-case basis. While such programs hope that patients will attend the second half of the school day following appointments, in many cases appointments will run later or be pushed back in time. Even in the best case scenario, mothers with morning appointments have to give up being students for half of the day during a time in their lives when the continuation of education is key. Outside of the New York region, programs tend to offer appointment times during the 9-5 work day, so that there is a possibility of scheduling appointments during a limited number of after-school hours, as seen in the Colorado Adolescent Maternity Program, the Center for Women’s Health and Midwifery (CT), and the Teen and Young Adult Family Center (IL).

While a limited number of programs help mothers to find a balance between education and prenatal health, the majority of hospitals lack such programs and little emphasis is placed on granting scheduling priorities to young mothers. By raising awareness about this concern, and by making existing programs and structures better accessible to the public, BYMC aims to educate, advocate, and help young mothers in New York and across the United States have the right to not have to choose between the health of their baby and the betterment of their future; our nation’s future.

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Advocacy and Thought Leadership at BYMC

By: Priscilla Bustamante

BYMC’s annual Advocacy and Thought Leadership Internship program (ATL) is now in full swing! For those unfamiliar with this program, ATL focuses on developing the leadership capacities of young mothers by training them as youth organizers and peer educators. ATL members are trained through weekly workshops, field visits, and community forums. During the first workshop, participating young women created team agreements, identified individual strengths and skills, and discussed decision making and the consensus method. During the subsequent workshop, they began discussing the process of direct-action community organizing. In order to help them examine the existing power structure and begin identifying the issues that they want to work on, last week ATL members also visited the Brooklyn Museum.

Internship participants made their way up from the bottom floor of the museum. They began by examining art pieces from different places in Africa, China, Korea, and Japan. One participating young mother, Rodna Le Brun, described the trip as a fun and interesting experience. Rodna said that she particularly enjoyed learning about “the different perspectives from African-American males on being gay, the difference between white and black America, and talking about different places in Africa.” Participants also enjoyed analyzing a painting depicting the conflict between different Islamic sects. One young mother, Nicole Guerrero, reflected on exploring the painting “using the concept of heaven and hell.” Finally, ATL members enjoyed discovering a display of life-size houses to see the way in which homes were designed throughout the centuries, and the implications that these design styles had on the ways in which Americans lived.

Throughout the rest of internship program, set to run until June, ATL members are scheduled to attend several other trips. They will see a film made by youth on reproductive rights, attend an open mic series highlighting issues significant to Brooklyn youth, and visit the Museum of Tolerance to learn more about social justice movements, global human rights violations, and America’s diversity. ATL members are on their way to gaining knowledge of the existing social structures, an understanding of community organizing, and a greater sense of empowerment.  Please support BYMC’s effort to build the leadership capacities of young mothers by donating at http://www.nycharities.org/donate/c_donate.asp?CharityCode=1252. Thank you!

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Leap into Action

By: Yeashea M. Braddock

Leap into Action that was theme of last week for me. Primarily because I had the pleasure of joining The Health Connect One National Network for their Advocacy Summit.  In the two days that I attended the summit I felt a renewed energy for the work that I do.

The summit brought together Community Doulas, Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, Doctors, and Policy Makers to share knowledge, create larger networks, and make plans for action. Our action plans include being active advocates, and we spent an entire morning on Capitol Hill speaking to our representatives. Another plan of action involves creating partnerships with existing health care centers and hospitals in our local communities.

Yet, the most rewarding aspect of the summit was the meeting the members of Health Connect One National Network. Suddenly I remember that I and BYMC are not alone in this rewarding, yet often emotionally taxing, work that is being a “Community Health Worker”. Though it seems counter-intuitive, since I work in the community, often I am so involved in navigating the health care system and advocating for the young women I work with that I forget that it’s not just me in the trenches.  That there others like me all over New York City and the country working to create a nation that is healthier, smarter, and stronger.  Meeting all my national colleagues last week emboldened me to think bigger, to be steadfast and keep my vision and goals always in front of me.

The Brooklyn Young Mothers’ Collective is poised to Leap into Action this year. I’m going to start here in Brooklyn with my sight on New York State.   Where are you going to begin? Remember your community is behind you, so just Leap!

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Importance of High School Graduation

By Nia Kiara England

Despite the fact that enrollment in postsecondary institutions has increased by 38% in the last ten years, high school dropout is still a serious issue in the United States. Each year, over 1.2 million American students drop out of high school. In America’s 50 largest cities, only 58% of students graduate from high school. Among the most common reasons cited for dropping out of school are academic struggle, economic reasons, family responsibilities, and youth crime. Academic struggle is the number one reason students leave school. About 30% of high school dropouts report that they were falling behind in their classes. Many of the young women here at BYMC report needing to leave high school to work full time in order to support their households. Teen mothers have a particularly high rate of dropout due to lack of childcare. It is also reported that gang violence within schools accounts for a notable portion of teenagers who withdraw. Forty years ago, the United States had the highest high school graduation rate in the world; today we are number 21.

Many of today’s high school dropouts are struggling to make ends meet. Over a lifetime, students who are unable to finish high school earn an average of $200,000 less than their peers who graduate from high school and $800,000 less than their peers who graduate from college. Students who are unable to complete high school comprise about half of the heads of households on welfare, and many of these households are headed by women who were teenage parents.

In order to address the social and economic consequences of high school dropout, there are many innovative local, statewide, and national programs in place. In Toledo, Ohio local community colleges offer dual credit programs that allow students to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree simultaneously. Here in New York State there are GED preparation programs online and within community colleges. Additionally, there are nearly 25 GED testing centers within the five boroughs of New York City alone. Nationally, programs and networks including the Job Corps, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program, and YouthBuild help former students to increase their education and find jobs. As a result of the success of programs like these, national data show that approximately 66% of high school dropouts eventually earn a high school diploma or GED.

High school dropout is a serious nationwide issue. It not only impacts the millions of students who drop out of school but it affects the economic stability of the nation at large. The Brooklyn Young Mothers’ Collective is dedicated to education and has advocated on the side of our young women and all at risk youth that they have equal access and equal quality  education. Everyone can play a role in reducing the high school dropout rate by tutoring students in local high schools, volunteering with dropout prevention programs, and mentoring young people. Join BYMC in keeping our young people encouraged, engaged, and educated.

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Depo before Milk?

By:  Yeashea M. Braddock

In 2010 the international media buzzed briefly with news of “Israel’s Racist Sterilization.”  The fact was that since 2008 many doctors in Israel were routinely giving Depo-provera (Depo) to primarily the Ethiopian population without full disclosure of what this “shot” was.  Approximately 57% of all Depo users in Israel were Ethiopian. In Europe Depo is quite controversial because it has many side effects and contraindications, and the traditional uses have been for women who are regarded as incapable of controlling their own reproduction or monitor other forms of birth control, and for women who suffer severe problems during menstruation. How alarming!

Depo also known as the “shot” is one of the most popular forms of birth control for adolescents and young women in the United States. Approximately 14% of teenagers (15-19 year olds) opt for Depo-Provera compared to the 5% of the remaining female population in the United States. However, there seems to be an emerging pattern that we are monitoring among the young women of color who work with The Brooklyn Young Mothers’ Collective.

Increasingly, young mothers are reporting that they are receiving Depo prior to being discharged from the hospital after they give birth. In theory this practice seems prudent because most teens fail to attend their six-week postpartum visit, and this would correct for subsequent pregnancies in the near term. Unfortunately, this practice doesn’t account for many important factors.

And it doesn’t curb subsequent teen pregnancies and in fact may make many young women more susceptible to pregnancy. A crucial step in developing a birth control regime is education and by giving Depo immediately following childbirth does not always allow that to happen among the teen parent population. Second, given that teen mothers often fail to attend their six-week postpartum visit there’s an even greater likelihood that they do not make their 11-13 week visit to have their next shot.

It’s the education about her health and body that will empower and promote her to be in control of her reproduction which is why the personalized relationship young women have with BYMC’s support services staff matters. As BYMC’s doula, I have an opportunity to help young mothers think about birth control in the context of their life’s broader choices.

So for me this practice impacts my ability to fully educate and engage young women who I support during pregnancy and childbirth. One of of the most egregious aspects of this practice is that it can prevent the establishment of breast milk and this breastfeeding. It’s counterproductive that most hospitals in New York City promote breastfeeding and then they give women Depo before they leave the hospital. Depo is a progestin-only birth control. Progestin is an artificial form of progesterone, which is the pregnancy hormone. The high dose of progestin that is in one Depo shot tricks the body into not ovulating because it thinks your maintaining a pregnancy.  Subsequently, your milk production is affected if you have not established a supply.  Given that the majority of women are discharged 1-3 days after birth, and breast milk doesn’t fully come in until 4-5 days after birth this is a major detriment to breastfeeding!

Many teen mothers do not know or fully understand the impact of the Depo shot on their efforts to breastfeed. They just think that they are unable to produce sufficient milk. When the truth is that they only needed to wait 4-6 weeks to establish their milk supply before they get they receive Depo. Not to mention that this emerging practice isn’t aligned with the country’s initiative of “Breast is best.”

Undoubtedly, BYMC mission is grounded in the Reproductive Justice framework and supports the use of all current forms of birth control, but in keeping with our policy of education to ensure informed choices, we are on alert! BYMC is conducting outreach at local hospitals to learn more about any existing “Depo policies” to make sure our young women about their choices.

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From Amsterdam to Brooklyn

By Priscilla Bustamante

On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, BYMC greeted two international guests from Holland. They arrived in New York City just a day earlier, and were excited to announce that BYMC was one of their first stops. Kautar Haddaoui and Fallon Maduro are both students in their last year of school in Amsterdam, studying to be Social Workers. They are currently working on a final school project, and over the next two months, will be researching the challenges that young mothers in New York City face.

Both Kautar and Fallon will be at BYMC’s weekly Power Sisters Academy meetings on Tuesday evenings to get to know BYMC members. They will be interviewing members to determine what young mothers’ greatest needs are. BYMC members will be able to share their stories and views on education, housing, employment and childcare issues. At the culmination of their research, our Dutch visitors will also be leading a workshop for BYMC members before they return home. We anticipate that this collaborative work will be a great learning experience for both the international visitors and all BYMC members involved.

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