A second chance – Alternative program at Sierra Foothill High helps young parents succeed
Success covers the walls of Jim Hinman’s classroom.Like a proud father showcasing his own children’s accomplishments, Hinman has tacked up every imaginable memento from nearly 20 years of teaching a group of students who, without considerable guidance, would probably abandon their dream of a formal education.
Lest they forget, the young mothers and fathers at the Silver Springs Young Parents and Infant/Toddler Program are bombarded with a visual cornucopia of success stories displayed in a crumbling room that once housed students at Grass Valley High School.
Pictures of young women barely old enough to drive, cradling children the size of flour sacks. Pictures of young men holding their diplomas, a testament to the twin triumphs of fatherhood and graduation.
Faded newspaper clippings with sepia-toned photographs of young women cradling newborns, back in the days when the classes for the young mothers were held in a cottage near the bus barn on East Bennett Street.
Here, in this classroom, is where real life and the cradle of academia collide.
“I love ’em all because they’re all my kids,” said Hinman, who helped launch the Young Parents program in 1986. “We’re a family, and every one of these kids belongs to us.”
As the school year begins anew, the students in the Young Parents Program have a new place to call home. The “family” that Hinman speaks of became a bit larger this year, as the Silver Springs students and their children moved from a classroom on McCourtney Road adjacent Bitney Springs High School to the combined Park Avenue Alternative Education site.
Two years ago, Silver Springs alumni and current students turned out in force to protest a proposed move of the Silver Springs campus to Nevada Union High School, a fire that was doused only after a number of students and community members presented a scenario of a few dozen young parents navigating a campus of 2,600 people with stares and questions.
“There are children who could enroll in this class that don’t, in part because of the threat of going to Nevada Union or coming here,” Hinman said.
The students share the same campus as those from Sierra Foothill High School, the adult school, independent study and students from the court-appointed Earle Jamieson High School.
A culture shift and more cohesion between the varied interests on campus has eased the transition for these young parents, said Hinman. “We now have a district hierarchy that really believes that every kid needs an education.”
While the Silver Springs students attend classes, their children spend time learning, crawling, walking and playing with toys and books in a nearby portable. This year, there are five children at the school, which is licensed to care for as many as 20 children up to age 3.
This program, run by the Nevada Joint Union High School District, doesn’t question the choice of high-school aged mothers or fathers-to-be.
“This is the state’s assurance that they’re getting the best education possible, despite their limitations,” said Joyce Smith, a site supervisor for the program. The reason for this program, according to Smith, seems obvious.
“If they didn’t have this program, they would be at a huge disadvantage.”
While they are here, the students are trained to learn life skills. It can be difficult to study for a midterm, but nearly impossible when the students here are holding down a job and suffering from sleep deprivation caused by an eight-month old with frequent midnight crying jags.
Just ask the mothers and fathers who’ve been there.
“To be honest, it’s hell,” said Jesse Rider, 17, a senior at Sierra Foothill whose son, Jared, 3 1/2, has been in the program almost since birth.
Asked to quantify his statement, Jesse Rider paints a harrowing picture of his introduction to fatherhood. Rider became a father at 13. The child’s mother, he said, is a drug addict who bounces between homes in Stockton and Sacramento.
To care for his son, Rider has held down as many as two jobs while maintaining a full class schedule. Yet, he speaks easily and optimistically about the opportunities offered him through the Young Parents Program.
“If I didn’t have a kid, I wouldn’t be so stressed out. But since I have a kid, I have to step up to the plate and allow him to have a good life.”
Alyssa Burke, 17, said her son, now 7 1/2 months old, helped sharpen her focus.
Once Brayden was born, Burke said she quit smoking and zeroed in on her studies.
“I want everything for him,” she said. “I want him to feel loved and happy. Burke’s boyfriend, Zack Taylor, has a job, and Burke said she hopes to enter cosmetology school upon graduation.
It’s possible, Burke said, because of the environment she places her child in during the school day.
“I’ve worked with Joyce for three years now, and she’s the only person I would trust for my son,” he said.
While students learn life skills, they also pick up valuable tools to help model a better life for their new children.
Jon Johnson, 15, admits his son wasn’t planned, but “it’s a good thing.” Teachers at Sierra Foothill led him to a training program that will teach him electrical skills at a program on Treasure Island near San Francisco.
“I’m happy being a dad,” he said, nudging his son, Jaiden-Michael Johnson, nine months.
Nearly every graduation, Karin Cole reminds these students that they, too, can rise from the challenge of being a school-aged parent.
As a senior in 1990, she gave birth to a son at the fledgling campus then housed on East Bennett Street. At the time, she went to school only because a bus took her to school and home each day.
“The thing that got me through was there were people who told me I could do really well,” said Cole, whose son Joshua is a freshman at Nevada Union this fall.
“It made me even more determined,” said Cole, who later married Ed, Josh’s father. “I mean, I felt it was unfair to my child to give him any less.”
The couple has no other children.
Cole believes it’s important to empower these students she sees in the Young Parents Program, and not fault them for the choices they’ve made.
“As much as we’d all like to end teen pregnancy, we have to realize these children are coming. Let’s equip them for the future. These are people who can contribute to society.”
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