Bannerman Helps Young Mothers Adjust

The following article appeared in Clay Today on Oct. 1, 2009 

 Ashlee Schmalz and her daughter, Autumn, are shown at Bannerman Learning Center.

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – When many teenagers are attending football games or hanging out with friends, Ashlee Schmalz, 16, is home taking care of her 14-month-old baby.

Ashlee, a tenth grader, attends the Teenage Parenting Program at BannermanLearning Center, Clay County’s alternative school in Green Cove Springs.  Her daughter, Autumn, goes to school with her and stays in the school’s nursery.

When Ashlee boards the school bus, she carries Autumn, a backpack, and Autumn’s changing bag.

“It’s really hard when they’re first born, and they don’t want to sleep all night, and you still have to get up and go to school.  You get them ready, and they don’t like the bus ride because it’s so long and it’s so hot,” she said.

“I was 14 when I had my baby,” said Ashlee.  “I’m 16, but I feel like I’m 25.”

“It’s so hard to find a job and find somebody to take care of your baby while you’re at work.  It’s just crazy trying to get all the money you need to support your kid when you are really just a child yourself,” she said. 

That’s the message Ashlee said she will take with her when she speaks to students at Lakeside Jr. High School in November.  She said she will tell them about her struggle as a teenage parent.

“I’m not going to lie and tell them that motherhood is fun because it’s not.  It’s not about me anymore.  I learned that in the first three months of my pregnancy.  I still can’t go out and do what I want to do,” said Ashlee.

“Autumn’s a handful and a half being a toddler,” she said.  “Her dad’s not there that much.  He gets to see her every other weekend, but he lives inJacksonville.”

Every day after school, Ashlee said she takes care of Autumn, does her homework, and cleans up the house where she lives with her mother. “I don’t really like to go too many places without Autumn anyway because whenever I’m out, I call many times to say, ‘How is she doing?’” she said.

On a recent weekday, Ashlee sat in Bannerman’s Guidance office talking with Leanne Adolf, Guidance Counselor, and Mary West, Behavior Specialist.

A fire drill occurred that morning.  As students and teachers streamed out of the school, nursery assistants wheeled a parade of cribs outside. The school has three nurseries for newborns to four years old, said Adolf.

She said when she sees Autumn in the nursery, she is always happy. “You can tell that Autumn has been loved,” said Adolf.

Currently, 20 girls and one boy (the father of one of the babies) attend the parenting program, she said.  The girls are either pregnant, or they have a baby who stays in the nursery.

“They take their regular academic classes like any other school, change classes like any other school.  The only difference is that they have the child care class that they go to,” said West.

There’s help when the girls get morning sickness.  “We have Nurse (Annette) Paul here, and the girls can get ice chips and crackers during the day,” Adolf said.

“Some of the girls are on their own,” West said.  “It’s very hard for them. We try to help them as much we can.”

“We always take monetary donations and gift cards, so if a girl needs something, we go to the store and buy diapers or other items they need,” said Adolf.  

West thumbed through a photo album she put together in 1990 when the parenting program began.  Each year, she updates the album with photos of the girls, their babies, and the babies’ fathers. “I feel like these are my kids,” she said. 

West pointed to one couple’s photo and said, “Their son came here.  I get kids now that their parents were teenage parents, and now they’re 15 to 18.  We show them pictures of their parents. One boy said ‘That’s the only picture I have of my mom and dad together,’” she said.

“I get calls back – they come and visit us.  A girl called yesterday who just finished up at JU, and another girl sent me her graduation announcement from UNF,” said West.

“We do have dropouts,” said Adolf.  “We try as best as we can to constantly work with them to keep them in school – that’s our big thing – keep them in school.”

Ashlee said that going to Bannerman has been a positive experience for her.  “When I first found out I was pregnant, they helped me find a doctor . . . I had a stressful pregnancy and missed school, and they worked with me. They were very understanding.  They helped me get maternity clothes and stuff I needed for the baby,” said Ashlee.

“They’ve been there for me.  They really do help teenage pregnancies a lot,” she said.