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EL SERENO : Custom Education for Pregnant Students

January 30, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

On the walls of their classrooms hang three-dimensional illustrations of the birth canal, and their reading material includes children's books that they might want to read to their babies after giving birth.

The girls at Thomas Riley High School East, a cluster of bungalows on the Wilson High School campus offering special physical education and childbirth classes, have chosen to attend the school after wrangling with the difficult situation of finding themselves pregnant.

Some said they heard about the school from friends and school counselors. Others said teachers at their former high schools scared or harassed them into enrolling at the school.

"They told me: 'If you fall, we won't want to take responsibility,' " said Yvette Melendez, 18, whose baby was overdue Wednesday.

Armida, 16, whose baby is due today, said she was denied an elevator key at Wilson High School, where students have to climb five flights of stairs to get to some classes.

Yet another, Marisa Gonzalez, 18, said a teacher wanted to send her to detention for having to go to the bathroom too often.

"I didn't go (to detention) because it wasn't right, so she just kept giving me more detentions," said Gonzalez, whose daughter, Michelle, was born Nov. 28.

That type of harassment, they said, along with the sneers and rude comments, make their situation even more difficult.

But at Riley, they find comfort among the other girls going through the same hardships--boyfriends who no longer come around, distraught parents and friends who don't quite understand.

"After you get pregnant, everything changes," Gonzalez said. "Your whole life changes. You get depressed a lot, thinking you're not going to finish school. Here, everybody just talks."

Riley consists of three campuses--East, Gardena and Nellie Blanding in Watts. The Los Angeles Unified School District offers students the choice of enrolling in one of the Riley sites, or the Harold McAlister High School, which has four campuses, or continuing in their regular school.

The Teen Mother Program offers counseling, bus transportation, classes in child development and preparing for the birth, and graduation credit.

The students usually return to their original schools after delivering their babies.

The East campus was at Booth Memorial Home, 2670 Griffin Ave., for 25 years but moved in September to its present location because Booth serves girls on probation, Principal Mary Ann Shiner said.

The move has hurt enrollment: There are 45 students but the school has room for 30 more.

Students in the program learn about their bodies and developing child in ways that are not offered at high schools.

"My mom told me I know more about this than she does," said Elizabeth, 15, whose baby is due Feb. 10.

Sandra James, who has taught pregnant students for 18 years, said many of them do better at Riley because of the close supervision and smaller classes.

Some find it more difficult to continue school after they have their babies because they can't find good infant care.

"If there's one thing to be said, it's that pregnancy is not the main reason for dropping out, child care is," James said. "It's sadly lacking."

Many of the girls, some of whom have jobs after they finish morning classes, leave their babies with family or a next-door neighbor.

"My interest is in seeing these kids stay in school," Shiner said. "We try to get them as much information before the baby comes because we tell them: 'Once you have the baby, life is going to be much more difficult.' "

Information: (213) 222-9797.

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