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Mind the Gap

by Brendan Lowe

March 27, 2010

An inner-city schoolteacher rejoices in the triumph of his student-mother.

One of the great joys of this job is the inspiration I sometimes receive from the people I work with—my students.

Take Tuesday, when my school held its annual National Honor Society induction ceremony.

The inductees, all clad in black pants and white collared shirts, stood in two perfect rows in the auditorium. Leading one line was Jalene, a petite pillar of perseverance, who, in addition to maintaining her A average, plays volleyball, works part-time, takes a college course—and raises her three-year-old son, Angel.

In recognition of Jalene’s accomplishments and the powerful counterexample she represents to the generalizations about teenage mothers, I’m turning this space over to her this week so that she might tell her story.

Feel free to post comments below—Jalene and I will do our best to write back in the week ahead.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was about to drop dead. I was 13-years-old, and I was already five months pregnant before I found out. My father was like, "Oh my God, you need to have this kid because I don’t want you to have an abortion."

When people hear the term teenage mother, they think about a lazy teenager who isn’t smart and basically drops out of school. In order for me to have my mind set on having a positive future, even though I was young and pregnant, I just tried to ignore everyone’s opinions and what everyone else had to say. I knew those comments weren’t going to help me.

I was like, okay, I'm going to have a child. I am definitely not dropping out. Why? Because I want to think of my profession. I need money. I don’t want to live on this block, I don’t want to live in front of the projects. I need to get into college and actually finish.

After I decided to stay positive and continue school, I asked my mother to transfer me out of my middle school and into a school for pregnant teens. That school was the best thing to ever happen to me. I took newborn education, I learned how to sew, how to make a quilt, I learned how to breastfeed, I learned how to stay healthy and all of the risks of being pregnant.

I felt a little awkward coming into a public high school because it was with a bunch of normal people. After school, I would go home, breastfeed Angel, and then come back for volleyball practice. I couldn’t breastfeed during the school day or I’d be marked as having cut class.

Angel is with a babysitter during the day. His father sees him five times a week, even though he works two jobs. So while I’m doing homework, he’ll take Angel to the park or out to buy ice cream. I’m just like, "I need to do my work, you need to take care of that kid." He has this whole idea that he wants to be a good dad, even though he doesn’t like changing Pampers or all of this other stuff he finds disgusting. My sister has always helped, too.

Last year, my highest average in a marking period was 96.5. The reason I did so well last year was because I stayed after school all the time. Now I have a tutoring job after school, and I take a college classes on Saturdays.

My major obstacle is managing my time. No matter what I do, I go to bed super late and wake up super early. In the morning, I take a shower, give Angel a bath, I need to dress Angel, dress myself, feed him, feed myself and then I need to come to school.

During volleyball, I was going to bed at two or three in the morning and waking up at six o'clock. My grades were good, but I realized how much I need sleep. I was coming to class and wanting to fall asleep and not paying attention to what the teacher was saying. I was basically teaching myself.

This year, I had a whole babysitting problem and moved a lot farther away, where it now takes me 45-minutes to get to school. I don't like coming late to school. When I come late to school I feel incomplete. I feel like I keep missing out on so much. I come to class and I don’t know what I’m doing. I try to do the work, but it’s still not the same.

Before Angel, I planned to go out of state for college. I want to study interior design or business. I was always thinking about dorm rooms, going hiking, seeing mountains. I was always thinking about going places. I don’t think there’s as much I can do with a kid. That’s definitely one big thing that has changed.

But that’s why I work hard. I want to expose myself to good things. I want to be a successful person. I want to live downtown, and I want to live by Central Park. I don’t think I’m going to accomplish that if I just sit outside.

Brendan Lowe is a Teach for America corps member who is in his second year of teaching high school in the South Bronx. His dispatch for GOOD will appear on Fridays. Last week's essay can be gotten here.

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