Help needed for pregnant students

The $130 million budget shortage in Baltimore City Public Schools is forcing schools to make serious budget cuts which will greatly affect the academic opportunities for some of Maryland's most vulnerable students. Among those who will be greatly affected are those pregnant and parenting students who attend Ben Franklin High School's United Way Family Center, a program that relies on district funds in addition to grants and donations to remain in operation ("School-based daycare in South Baltimore helps teen parents graduate," April 12). Only 40 percent of teenage mothers finish high school and less than 2 percent of young mothers complete college by age 30. The United Way Family Center, known as the "Ben Center" to the students, not only provides a safe place for mothers and their children but also provides counseling for young parents, home visits, prenatal support and parent-child assessments. This program gives pregnant and parenting students the support and resources they need to both bond with their child and receive a quality education.

The impending budget cuts facing Baltimore's public schools would put a severe strain on these centers that provide vital parenting resources to students. Currently in Maryland, only 10 schools offer such programs, but now with the recent passing of House Bill 616, all public school districts must establish a written attendance policy for pregnant and parenting students that, at a minimum, excuses absences related to pregnancy and gives students at least 10 days of excused absences after the birth of their child. This policy gives equal educational opportunities to all students, regardless of their parental status.

The United Way Family Center at Ben Franklin is an excellent example of a public school that is truly invested in the success of their students. It is imperative that this program continues to provide resources to their students, and I encourage other public schools, under the guidance of this new policy, to establish programs that serve the pregnant and parenting student populations in their districts. I applaud The Baltimore Sun for exposing the issues facing our student population in Maryland and encourage other districts and public schools, under the guidance of the new attendance policy, to follow Ben Franklin High School's example and support pregnant and parenting students in their academic journeys.

Margaret McGill, Towson

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