School for Little Wanderers
STUDENT: James' puke smells way worse than their kids' puke, man!

CAROL: Some girls, it's a competition of how you look, what you have. Here it's, My baby has two teeth.

STUDENT: Kaya's on whole milk, so I know how it is.

CAROL: And how can you erase that? You can't.

STUDENT: Aw, but just wait until she gets really really gets really sick.
STUDENT: Wait 'till it's green!
STUDENT: And she's just, like, walking around, throwing up.

CAROL: When you equate it or relate it to what happens at regular school, it still happens but in a different manner. And you keep saying, Don't compare your child. Every child's gonna roll over some day, don't worry about it. You know. But you still hear them, [whisper] Mine's doing this. [laugh]

I'm Carol Bourgoin, and I'm the director of the Teen parent School Program at the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers. For pregnant and parenting teens. Most of our students don't even know what grade they are. Generally they haven't been in school. There's a lot of holes in their academics. Having them be comfortable and feel safe and feel supported is the key piece to the program.

STUDENT: You can't tell- You can't write down your true honest feelings anywhere.
STUDENT: Yeah, I never tell anybody anything unless I want somebody else to know it.
STUDENT: But it's hard.

CAROL: Prenatal and parenting. Those are required of every student

JANA: So, we had a long time from our last parenting class together. So I wanted to first just kind of check in.

JANA: My name is Janna. I teach all subjects, including parenting.

JANA: So Marie, what's happening with Sasha?
MARIE: I can't get her to go to bed by herself anymore.

JANA: A big thing about parenting class is just talking to other teen moms. They get to have people to talk to, who are in the same boat, who aren't judging, and aren't, you know. And that's probably the biggest thing about parenting.

JANA: And the last chapter you did is about sleep, is that right?

JANA: Some of them wanted to be pregnant. And I think that's a real tough one to look at. But it's the truth. Many of them got pregnant by accident. Many of them will be the first to say, I wanted to get pregnant. Take a look at that, you know. I mean, this is not 20 years ago when by accident so and so go pregnant when she was 16. For some of them it became almost like the thing to do. They knew someone who was pregnant and had a baby, and it was cool. And they got pregnant quite deliberately to create that family. They want the family. That's what they want more than anything. And I think that's hard to face. It's been hard for me to face. But after you get into their heads, you kind of understand why they want it.

One of the huge things we work with is discipline because most of them have had some really- usually they've had trauma, they've had some sort of abuse. It's just part of the correlation of what makes me have the kids I have. They end up vulnerable to early sexual relationships, and because they haven't had emotional needs met. And their way to find- to get their needs met, has been in some ways that has been really unhealthy for them.

Um, but it doesn't mean that they don't love their children. And I guess that's the big thing. That's the misconception is that these kids are mothers, and they might be 15 or 17, but they're mothers and they love their children and they want to do the best they can to be really good parents.

JANA: Do some of you find yourselves yelling, sometimes? I think we've all been there.

STUDENT: You know, I want to be completely honest with you, man. I've yelled at my kid, I've spanked him. You know. Nobody's a perfect mother. And I'm sure with everybody's kids, I'm sure you're eventually going to yell at least once. You know, it's just sometimes you get so frustrated you just don't know what to do.

JANA: This gives some pretty- real, kind of practical advice

JANA: I just say, walk a mile in their shoes. What they hear here is about the most support they get all day. They're up half the night some times or they're exhausted had have troubles with boyfriends or they have partners who haven't helped and they are the only ones taking care of this baby. And they come in half dead. And, like they have their homework done. And the last thing they need is to have a teacher say, 'Oh, you didn't do your homework' So, picture them in a regular high school [laugh] That's why they don't go. They would drop out of a regular high school. It's perfectly understandable to me why it didn't work in a regular high school.

JANA: This is a great question: Are all normal children able to be toiled trained by the time they are three?
JANA: No, so much no

[fade out classroom]

This piece aired on January 3, 2005 on KLCC on The Nortwest Passage; January 12, 2005 on Here and Now; July 12, 2006 on KFAI's Listening Lounge; and September 8, 2007 on WFUV. A narrated version aired May 6, 2005 on Voice of America.

Producer: Sarah Elzas
Recorded in Waterville, Maine