Teenage mom programs crowded out at Maui High
School faces space crunch with record 600-plus freshman class expected next ear; ‘hard decisions’ had to be made, says principal
Every morning, Jada Apolo drops her 13-month-old daughter off at day care and heads to her first class at Maui High School.
Motherhood came sooner than expected for the 16-year-old junior, but she’s been able to stay in school thanks to the day care at Maui High, the only school on island that offers such a program.
“We can either be here at school with our day care, or we could be at home watching our child,” Apolo said. “It would just be a hard thing because then we’d have to give up our education to find a job to help pay for child care.”
But with the already crowded high school expecting 640 freshmen in the fall, officials are having to make tough calls — including cutting the day care and teen parents programs for the coming school year.
“It was hard for our teachers to make that decision,” Principal Jamie Yap said. “It does have value, and I think the school values it. But when you have competing values, that’s where the hard decisions have to be made.”
Yap said last year’s freshman class of 520 was the largest the school had ever seen, and with the incoming class, he expects an enrollment over 2,000. The school has had to reconsider all of its resources, not just the teen parents program. A testing room and special education classroom are slated to be re-purposed, though the school will find other spaces for them. But because the teen parents program is not required, it may not make the cut given all the other needs, Yap said.
The teen parents program started in 1989 and is funded by the school, said Crystal Kondo, who directed the program from 2001 to 2017 and is now a school counselor. It offers prenatal and parenting classes for pregnant students and new mothers, teaching parents how to feed, educate and care for their children. The day care was established around 2005 and is funded through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant. The total for this school year was just under $80,000.
Maui, Kapaa and Konawaena high schools are the only public schools statewide with day care, according to Yap.
“When state funds went into weighted student formula, many schools got rid of their (teen parent) programs,” Kondo explained. “Our principals had been very supportive, and they left the position intact.”
About 12 students this year use the day care and parenting programs, which share a large classroom separated into two spaces. Day care opens before classes and runs until 3:15 p.m. Apolo said she pays about $25 for a whole school year, a much more affordable rate than outside services.
In March of her freshman year at Baldwin High School, Apolo found out she was pregnant. She missed several days due to morning sickness and ended up failing a couple of classes.
“There was no one at the school to relate to my situation,” Apolo said. “I kind of felt alone.”
Just before Christmas break of her sophomore year, Apolo gave birth to her daughter. She came back after four weeks but still fell behind in classes. So, in her junior year, she transferred to Maui High, where the day care allowed her to concentrate on her school work.
“I’ve seen a really big difference,” Apolo said. “In my program, there’s a lot of other single mothers from all over. We’re the only school (with a day care), so people from Upcountry, Lahaina, all kinds of places come here. . . . I don’t know what it is about being a mom, but you instantly connect with other ones.”
Apolo said she’s learned how to prepare healthy meals for her daughter through the classes, and, thanks to the day care, she has time after school to ask teachers for help on assignments. If the program can’t continue, she said she “would probably not make it through the school year because I wouldn’t have the resources.” She said she wants to continue her education and doesn’t want her parents to feel pressure to quit their jobs.
Kondo also worries some of the students would drop out. Last year, she had four seniors in the program. All went on to enroll at the University of Hawaii Maui College, which Kondo sees as a shift from the early days of the program, when the main focus was just getting the kids to graduate.
“Having this program is starting to change the mindset of the students, that just because they have a baby doesn’t mean that their life is over, doesn’t mean they can’t go to college,” Kondo said.
She added that pregnancy has been “a wake-up call” for some students “that they needed to become engaged in their education and make good decisions for their future.”
Apolo said she wants to become a veterinarian and is thinking of enrolling at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“My grades are really good,” Apolo said. “I owe it to this class and our day care.”
When she heard the program could shut down, Apolo started sending letters and a survey to school staff and the community. She’s gotten more than 400 responses, 97 percent in support. She and Kondo hope that someone might donate or build a trailer or portable.
“Not to say we haven’t been asking the state for help, but on a list of priorities, we’re not No. 1,” Yap said, adding that maybe another school could take over.
Neither Baldwin High nor Lahainaluna is planning to add a day care at this point, principals at both schools said. King Kekaulike officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
“It’s a great idea. We’d love to have one,” Lahainaluna Principal Lynn Kaho’ohalahala said. “Right now, it is a facilities issue. We’re really lacking space.”
In Maui County, teen pregnancy rates have fallen since 2000, from 48.3 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, to 22.1 births in 2015, according to hawaiihealthmatters.org.
Maui High’s program has gone from 35 students in 2000 to about four or five in each of the past few years, Kondo said. Even with fewer students, Kondo said the program is still necessary.
“Pregnancy rates have fluctuated over time,” she said. “What we do know is students who graduate high school are less likely to be on welfare and social services. If you’re willing to spend the money now, it’s a savings later. . . . Until the pregnancy rate is zero percent, the services are still very valuable to the kids.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.