Rising 11th grader Chelsea Almendarez is no stranger to a challenge. A dedicated student, Almendarez recently earned her driver’s license and has ambitions of joining JROTC in her junior year. Driving and high school graduation did not always seem to be within reach for Almendarez, who became a mother during her freshman year. That is where HISD’s Parenting Summer Workshop came in.
HISD’s Parenting Summer Workshop was designed to help pregnant or parenting students connect with resources in their community that can help them and their children to thrive despite the challenges and stigma of teen parenting.
“[The workshop] is designed to support students with their non-academic barriers,” said Student Assistance Manager Leticia Partida. “Anything from mental health to self-care, we’re able to help them with those aspects.”
The largest hurdle, according to Partida and her team, is that student parents are largely unaware of the resources that are available to them and are either afraid to ask for help or don’t know where to go to find it.
“When you become a mother, not everything is about the baby,” Almendarez said. “You need to take care of yourself, and you can’t forget about yourself. You’re not alone, you just have to speak up.”
Though Almendarez has the support of her mother and a community of found family in caring for her now two-year-old son, she didn’t miss a single session of the workshop. For four weeks, student parents participated in classes where they developed personal goals and learned strategies for self-empowerment. Participants were also given access to licensed psychologists and some of HISD’s community partners: Jolt Texas, Empowerment Services, the Harris County Department of Education’s Head Start Program, and Workforce Solutions. These community partners offer resources to help young parents to complete their education while still caring for themselves and their children.
“We understand that they’re juggling school, being a parent, perhaps being responsible for a household,” said Partida. “We want to make sure that they understand that we want to educate them and empower them so that when they cross that finish line and get their diploma, they can stand on their own two feet.”
The Parenting Summer Workshop was developed utilizing responses from a survey with which organizers were able to assess the needs of participating students and design a program that would cover a range of challenges they reported having as young parents, including finding reliable day care, transportation, medical care, and basic parenting skills.
On the last day of the workshop, student parents were presented with certificates of completion and invited to “shop” through a collection of donated new and gently used baby clothes, as well as a pantry of assistance items like diapers, wipes, and school supplies.
As Almendarez approaches graduation, the lessons she took from the Parenting Summer Workshop have readied her for her next big challenge: enlisting in United States Marine Corps.
“If I speak up, I have a lot of help around me,” she said. “You need to take care of yourself and don’t let anything get to you. If you have a goal, you go for it. You don’t let anyone stop you.”