When you think about your high school experience, what comes to mind? The friendships, sports, or parties? Maybe it was a load of fun, but a more accurate picture would probably include going through puberty, stressing about your popularity, and the actual school part. Now, imagine that in the middle of all that, you get pregnant. Pregnant teens have to cope with preparing for childbirth and learning to be a parent while they’re still in high school. It’s a bumpy ride, which pretty much describes the experience that Jenny Deters went through 26 years ago.
“I was a sixteen year-old straight-A student living in a foster home. I had dreams of becoming a lawyer, a judge, then Prime Minister,” recalls Jenny. “My life changed when I found out I was pregnant. The pressure to have an abortion or give my baby up for adoption was enormous. After all, I didn’t have a supportive family to help me, or the financial means to support myself and my child.” While most teens Jenny’s age were worrying about whether they could finish their homework before Beverly Hills 90210 came on TV, Jenny was worrying about whether she’d be able to finish high school.
As it happened, the Young Parent Program (YPP) was launched at G.P. Vanier Secondary School that very same year. Created by the Today ‘n’ Tomorrow Learning Society (TNTLS) in 1993 in response to an increased number of young parents in the Comox Valley, YPP assists expectant and parenting students in completing their high school education by providing them with educational support, childcare, and social and health support. Jenny enrolled in the Young Parent Program that first year, along with 17 other young parents.
“As a young parent who felt scared and alone, the program offered me a place where I could feel supported and learn the parenting skills I needed to raise a healthy, successful child,” said Jenny. “I was able to attend classes as a normal student and, with the daycare located on school property, also breastfeed and be with my son when he needed me.” Jenny is a successful entrepreneur who owns and operates the popular home décor store, Design Therapy in Downtown Courtenay.
The Young Parent Program is going strong. As of last year, a total of 130 teenage parents have graduated from high school because of YPP. Now it’s one of three programs offered by the Today ‘n’ Tomorrow Learning Society. The other two programs, Teddies ‘n’ Toddlers Daycare Centre (birth to three years) and the Little Friends Learning Centre (three to five years), support the Young Parent Program by providing childcare for students in YPP as well as much-needed access to childcare to all Comox Valley families, including those completing their high school or college education, and/or families needing assistance through the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Pam Rungee, a student at Vanier Secondary who is part of the Young Parent Program, admits that without the program she probably wouldn’t have returned to school. “When you get pregnant as a teenager, people look at you and tell you that your life is over, that you’ve made a big mistake and you’re not going to accomplish anything. But really,” says Pam, “having my son put my life on the track it needed to be on, and now I actually have plans and a career that I’m working towards. The program gives me time to focus on what I need to do and the assurance that my boy is taken care of when I’m not able to be with him.” Pam is an Honour Roll student set to graduate from Vanier in June 2018.
Natalie Robinson is the Executive Director at Today ‘n’ Tomorrow Learning Society, and she understands how important the TNTLS programs are to students like Jenny and Pam. Natalie grew up in a foster family and her single mother was a social worker, a background that provides Natalie with a unique perspective on the broad spectrum of family circumstances. She knows the Society’s commitment to enriching the lives of each parent and child results in a visible and meaningful difference in our community, strengthening it one family at a time.
PROFILE OF COMMUNITY IN ACTION SPONSORED BY NORTH ISLAND UROLOGY