I was recently reminded of a revelation about teenage girls that I had during my fifth year of teaching English in a large urban high school: the dearth of viable mentoring programs for teenage girls in public schools. Kathy, an alumna from our graduate teaching program echoed my decade-old insight when she informed me that her school for pregnant teenagers was closing its doors.
We were both disappointed since Kathy's school, Wharton High School, was designed over 30 years ago to prevent young pregnant girls from dropping out of school. When I heard the news, I was angry. Yet again, a program designed to support young women is dissolved; the fact that this was a school where teachers received professional awards for their efforts and where the students reported that they performed better in school since they received more individual help with their studies was not a factor. The positive sentiments of the school were echoed in the community as well. As Kathy and I discussed Wharton HS, I was reminded of a laudatory comment, which came from the obstetric nurse who took care of me just a few years ago when my son was born. Nurse Lynn said, "The girls who come from Wharton HS are often more prepared for motherhood than some of the yuppy moms."
As an English teacher, Kathy reported that Wharton HS was a learning community where girls who really needed the extra assistance with reading and writing could get it. As an English teacher, she discovered that the students liked the small school of 180 students and that they appreciated the personal involvement of the teachers. This individual attention was possible since the teaching load of Kathy and her colleagues at Wharton HS was substantially less than the average city high school.
In teaching English, the individual attention and focus on the students enabled Kathy to "really develop their literacy skills." As Kathy summarized, "I could work one-on-one with their writing. I can't do that with bigger class sizes. We also had more choices about the books that we read and the choices for the curriculum. The curriculum was more aligned to what they were going through (referring to pregnancy and motherhood)." As Kathy and I discussed the school's closure, we lamented that working individually with students on their writing, tailoring the curriculum so that it promotes personal meaning, isn't that a primary focus of high school English class?
Isn't a learning community that mentors teenage girls who are in serious jeopardy of dropping out of school worth preserving? Isn't a learning community where teenage girls learn how to develop their literacy skills critical as they are about to become mothers? Apparently not! Wharton HS was in fact shuttered and a "for sale" sign was posted on the door of this valuable school property in a trendy Chicago neighborhood.
Reference Citation:McKnight, Katherine S. (2003). "Shuttered Schools - Blatant Greed." WILLA, Volume XII, p. 40.