Graduating from Wilde Lake High School on June 5 after five years was particularly momentous for Yesica Mamgandi, who crossed the virtual graduation stage with her 2-year-old daughter, Marvely, by her side.
Mamgandi, 19, of Columbia, was among the 13 teen parent graduates in Howard County’s Class of 2020, a feat made possible, she said, by the Teenage Parenting and Childcare Program offered by the Howard County Public School System.
When Mamgandi became pregnant in 2017 during her sophomore year at Wilde Lake, she confided in a teacher she could trust. The teacher told her about the teen parenting program based at the Columbia high school. The program, which originally started in 1985 at a vocational-technical school, found its home at Wilde Lake in 1996.
“It was so difficult for me because I was 16 years old,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, but [Marvely] changed me. She changed me a lot. I had to finish school for her.”
Kazandra Anderson is the director of the program, which provides resources and services for students who are teen parents to help them graduate. The child care program includes day care with four child care providers, a child development center and a school-based health center equipped to handle infant and toddler needs. This way, students can attend Wilde Lake while their children are on the campus as well.
The program, which county students have to apply for, also provides outreach and case management to teen parents throughout the district.
When she first met Mamgandi, Anderson said the pregnant teen was not attending school regularly. Mamgandi had a number of family issues that were difficult to balance, but that’s why Anderson said she was there: to guide Mamgandi along the way.
“The biggest stigma with teen parents is that they are somehow not interested in being successful,” Anderson said. “A lot of people think that if a teenager has a baby at that age, they have no dreams or goals.”
Marvely was born Nov. 23, 2017, and two months later, Mamgandi was back in class and both were in the child care program.
“People don’t give students the credit they deserve for staying in school while raising a child,” Anderson said.
For students who aren’t interested in the child care program but still need assistance or resources at their respective high school, Anderson consults with them, traveling across the county to ensure that students who are teen parents have what they need to graduate.
“The goal is to prevent students from dropping out of high school. If a program is effective in helping students graduate, it’s a worthwhile program,” Anderson said.
Each year the child care program takes up to 12 students and 12 babies. This school year the program was full. Every day for first period, the students attend a teen parenting class, where they receive lessons in parenting skills. For the rest of the day, they attend their regular classes while their children are cared for at the day care.
The restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic made the latter part of Mamgandi’s final year of high school particularly difficult.
“The students have had to do their school work without child care,” Anderson said. “They have to do [online classes] with their babies.”
Like most parents, Mamgandi struggled to develop a schedule that functioned for her school work and Marvely’s nap times.
“She was crying because she wanted attention from me while I was doing online class,” Mamgandi said. “When I was in the class, she wanted to eat, she wanted to play. It was harder to do online [classes] than to stay in school.”
Anderson called Mamgandi’s graduating from Wilde Lake “life-changing” and said this accomplishment sets up her family for future successes.
“She is the first in her family to graduate from high school,” Anderson said of Mamgandi. “It hasn’t been easy over the three years. The thing I admire most about her [is] she is an overcomer; she doesn’t give up. She never quits. All of the obstacles that could have stopped her this year didn’t.”
Mamgandi got a job working as a manager at a nearby McDonald’s earlier this month. She said she doesn’t have any immediate plans for future schooling, but one day hopes to become a nurse and help others on their journeys to parenthood.
As Mamgandi was preparing for her graduation a few weeks ago, she ordered a matching cap and gown for Marvely. She said she wasn’t the only one graduating; Marvely was, too.
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“Don’t worry, [being a teen parent] is going to help you. Don’t give up. Finish school for your baby, for your life. When you finish school, you’re going to say, ‘I did it with my baby,’ ” she said. “This is the reason I did it.”