South High?s helping hand to pregnant teens

By LEIGH PRITCHARD

WITHIN three days of school resuming this year, three Year 10 students informed South Grafton High School principal Barry Bartley they were pregnant.

Instead of turning the girls away, Mr Bartley drew from his time at Plumpton High School in Sydney's western suburbs, and introduced the Young Mothers Program.

The program, which enables teenage mothers to complete their school certificate, is based on a model he helped implement at Plumpton High.

Mr Bartley said students in the program continued to attend school up until giving birth, after which they completed their school work from home.

"We haven't always had the program, it came out of a need to have it up and running," Mr Bartley said.

"We don't want them to drop out of school when they fall pregnant, they can complete their studies outside of classes."

Mr Bartley, principal of South High since 1997, said all schools could access the program, but it was the first time it had been implemented at South Grafton High School.

Mr Bartley, who worked as deputy principal at Plumpton High School from 1988-1996, said he assisted with the implementation of the program in 1990 with now retired principal Glen Sargent, an Order of Australia recipient.

Before implementing the program at South High, Mr Bartley said he spoke with Mr Sargent and went through a 'checklist of things needed for the program'.

"Glen certainly had the vision and foresight to see where the program would go," Mr Bartley said.

Mr Bartley said two meetings had been held to introduce the girls and their families to support agencies, including staff from the Grafton Base Hospital prenatal and postnatal clinics, the Support for Mothers Committee and the Families First Project.

"We've been able to set up a good network with people; part of the nature of Grafton is to help and support one another," Mr Bartley said.

Mr Bartley said new mothers and their babies ? Jessica Archer, 15 with Malachi and Sam Clenton, 16, with Hailie-Jane ? visited the school for the first time on Friday, with the third student due to give birth in 11 weeks.

"They are going very well and the babies are beautiful," Mr Bartley said.

"It is a very hard road coping with a baby, family and study.

"I think it is important for everyone to complete their education so it can widen their opportunity for employment.

"It is our responsibility to help all students."

Jessica Archer was 14 when she fell pregnant with her now two-month-old son Malachi.

She told a Sydney newspaper she wanted to finish her school certificate and become a pre-school teacher.

Mr Bartley said there was no set guidelines about how long a student took off during and after pregnancy.

"They can come back as soon as they have everything under control," Mr Bartley said.

"They might come back part or full-time."

English and history teacher Sharon Tarrant coordinated Jessica's and Sam's school work while they went on maternity leave.

"I collect different work from across the facilities," she said.

Ms Tarrant acted as a tutor and mentor for the students, introducing them to community support agencies.

She said the teenage mothers completed the same assessment tasks as other students to finish their school certificate.

"I think it is important for young mothers to have more options than just staying at home with the bub," Ms Tarrant said.

"We love for other students to be able to tolerate difference and learn to relate to others even if they are a teen mother or father."



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