OGDEN – Young parents at Two Rivers High School will soon be able attend classes knowing that their infants and toddlers are being cared for nearby.
The school, in cooperation with Weber School District, is reopening an on-site childcare program at the beginning of the 2019–2020 school year.
Nicole Meibos, principal at Two Rivers, anticipates that the program will serve 12-14 participants in its first year.
Lexie Muro, 18, is a resident of Ogden and a recent graduate of Two Rivers who took day and evening classes in the fall of 2018 so she could finish before her son, Elijah, was born in December.
She says that if she knew then that she’d have access to a childcare program after her son was born, it would have relieved a lot of stress.
“It was a huge fear not having somewhere for my child to go, and that was my biggest stress, like ‘I need to get this done as soon as possible because he could have come at any moment,’” Muro said. “If that program had been around while I was (at Two Rivers), I wouldn’t have felt so pressured to work as hard as I did. I pushed myself. I did a lot of extra homework that wasn’t necessary ... just so I could get done as fast as possible.”
She said she would have wanted to graduate early anyway, but if she knew that an on-site childcare program was available, that knowledge would have been like a safety net, easing her fear of what would happen if the baby came earlier than expected, and she wasn’t able to finish before he was born.
Muro’s baby came at the perfect time, she said, allowing her to finish all of her coursework about a month before giving birth.
With a high school degree in hand, Muro recently moved into her first home with her husband, and she said the family is currently doing very well.
But not all young parents’ situations are the same, and not all will be able to graduate before their children are born, like Muro did.
Safety nets like the child care program at Two Rivers don’t just ease the minds of young mothers and fathers, allowing them to focus on their schoolwork, though that is one of their benefits. They can also affect the health of mothers and their babies.
Due to the pioneering research of psychologist Christine Dunkel Schetter and colleagues at UCLA’s Stress Processes and Pregnancy Lab, it is now well known among researchers and obstetricians that stress during pregnancy can have long-term effects on both mothers and their children.
In the short-term, stress during pregnancy increases the likelihood that babies will be born early at a low birth weight, and that mothers will develop postpartum depression.
By reducing maternal stress, childcare programs like the one at Two Rivers can lead to healthier pregnancies — and healthier mothers and babies for years to come.
Destiny Gomez, 17, and her sister Airiana, 16, were both in the middle of high school when Destiny gave birth to her daughter in the summer of 2017.
In the fall immediately following the birth of her daughter, Destiny tried online school, but it was difficult to access because her family did not have internet services.
She started attending classes at Fremont in the spring of 2018, but she ran into the problem of finding childcare for her daughter, Jaylah. Destiny and Airiana started taking turns staying home from school and looking after Destiny’s daughter every other day.
Their frequent absences led their counselor to recommend that they transfer to Two Rivers, which is a smaller setting with more supports. But the two sisters still had the problem of childcare, and both continued to miss school throughout the 2018–19 school year.
They both have significant credits to make up as a result of these absences.
“It kind of wiped out that year,” Destiny said.
But both sisters are still students at Two Rivers, and Destiny says she plans to enroll her daughter in the childcare program this school year, so she and Airiana will both have the chance to recoup their credits and graduate.
“That would help me a lot and (my daughter), because when I do go to school, she misses me,” Destiny said. With the child care program, Destiny will be able to drop by during the school day to check in on her.
“I think it’s a great idea (to start the program) because most teenage parents that can’t attend school, can’t get their schoolwork done and won’t be able to graduate the year they’re supposed to graduate ... because of how difficult some lives are,” Airiana said. “Some people might have ... no one to help them in their life with their child.”
Destiny said that in addition to completing her coursework, she’ll get to participate in some of the fun activities at school that she never attended before.
Two Rivers and Weber School District jointly decided to close a similar childcare program at the end of the 2015–2016 school year because there weren’t enough students participating to justify the cost, according to Lane Findlay, community relations specialist with the district. This program started in 2004, when Elaine Jensen was the principal of Two Rivers.
According to previous reporting by the Standard-Examiner, the earlier program cost $55,000 to operate, which went toward funding one full-time aide and two part-time aides.
Shortly before Meibos began her work at Two Rivers in the fall of 2018, Superintendent Jeff Stephens asked her to evaluate bringing back a childcare program, Meibos wrote in an email.
She visited several similar programs in Utah, and the district created a steering committee to evaluate which type of program would best meet the needs of students at Two Rivers.
The committee ultimately selected the program at Millcreek High School in Washington County School District as the model Two Rivers would implement, Meibos said.
The new program will provide care for infants and toddlers and provide young parents with education and training in nutrition, routines, car seat safety, supportive parenting practices, CPR and first aid, among other areas. Outside agencies, including Intermountain Healthcare, Parents as Partners, Welcome Baby and Early Head Start will also support the program.
The program will be free for young parents at Two Rivers and will be funded through “donations, community partnerships and district funding for staffing,” Meibos said. Weber School Foundation has donated $5,000 to the program.
Meibos said that the school and district are currently seeking additional donations so the program can open this August.
The district and school plan to keep the program running for the foreseeable future, Meibos and Findlay said, regardless of fluctuations in enrollment.
Ogden School District has offered a childcare program through George Washington High School in the past, but it ceased operation about a decade ago, according to Jer Bates, director of communications for Ogden School District.
Bates said in an email that he confirmed with Weber School District that young parents living in Ogden School District boundaries can apply to Weber School District for a boundary exception, just like any other out-of-district student can, if they wish to attend Two Rivers.