New school-based store helps teens meet ‘overwhelming’ costs of motherhood

By Melissa Hirschl

The teenage years can be tumultuous, exhausting, scary and intimidating for many young people. Yes, there are dances, football games and myriad other intoxicating fun activities, but there are dangerous cracks that teens can fall into, pregnancy being one of them.

Having a child can be nerve-wracking enough for a mother who is married and financially stable. For a teen, the demands of motherhood can be totally overwhelming.

Few young people are prepared for the complexities of childrearing, not to mention the demands of time and money.

Julie Lessard and Priscilla Kadi, Kyrene Corridor residents and staff members at Tempe’s Compadre High School, have come up with an idea to help alleviate some of the financial stress for young mothers on a teen budget.

It’s an in-school store called APPLES that was co-developed with student input. The acronym stands for Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Little Essentials Store. Here, girls can parlay earned school credit for such essentials as diapers, wipes, bibs, clothes and toys.

The 8-by-8-foot mini-store is open on Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and has garnered enormous enthusiasm from girls and faculty alike since its grand opening last week.

Students earn points for such things as attendance, unit or course completion, grades, assisting with store operations and graduation. These points can be then be redeemed for store credit. According to Kadi, “the program boosts course completion, school attendance, student character and graduation.”

Lessard, the school’s social worker, relates that it is the girls themselves that helped develop pricing, parameters, points, tasks, and ground rules. “One of the biggest gratifications,” she says, “is seeing the girls working so enthusiastically on this project. It’s wonderful to see them working so hard in school and being truly motivated. By being involved in the program, the girls learn how to manage a program as well as learning math skills by being cashiers.”

Many of the store’s donations come from the Tempe Elementary School District which has a clothing bank called Connecting with Kids for elementary aged children. Buffalo Kids, a re-sale children’s clothing store in Tempe also donates infant clothes to the store. “Recently,” says Lessard, “a girl scout got donations of baby items and sent us fifteen boxes of clothes.”

Gericalynn Dukepoo, an 18 year-old senior, has her three-month-old child Serenity, in the school’s on-site child care program for the four hours a day that she attends school. “This is my first child and this program really helped me out a great deal,” she says. “My points let me get a lot of clothes for my daughter that I didn’t have to buy – it gave me a real head-start, since I have little money.” Eventually Dukepoo envisions herself attending a community college to become a medical assistant. She presently works part-time at Little Caesars and puts all her salary into a savings account for Serenity. “My friends and family are very proud of me for taking care of her as well as I do; when I’m not in school or at work, she is always with me.”

The only stipulation for the shoppers is that they must be enrolled in TAPP, the Teenage Pregnancy Program, located on the campus of Compadre High School. Basically, a school within a school, the TAPP program is open to girls in the following high schools: Mountain Vista, Corona del Sol, Mountain Point, Desert Vista, Marcos de Niza, McClintock, and Tempe High. TAPP is a separate self-paced school located within Compadre for pregnant students who prefer an alternative setting during their pregnancy. A student may enter TAPP at any stage of her pregnancy and continue earning credit toward graduation in required and elective courses. Most course work is completed through independent study with the help of a teacher and instructional assistants. After the birth of her child, the girl has the option of completing the quarter at TAPP, or transitioning back to her home campus.

The TAPP program falls under the umbrella of APPP, the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting program. This comprehensive program focuses on character education within the framework of an academic incentive program, while providing services such as: social services, health care case management, one-on-one prenatal counseling, nutrition assessment, and referrals for housing, child care, financial aid and much more. Basically the program is a life saver for girls who could easily be adrift and alone at this frightening time in their lives.

To get the girls ready for their new adventure, the Human Relations part of TAPP  frequently provides speakers. For instance, nurses come in to address issues such as breast feeding and what the girls can expect physically during their pregnancy - dentists also visit to discuss baby dental care. According to Dukepoo, the girls are given tons of pamphlets and articles on child related issues. “These programs were great,” she says. The articles on breast feeding were especially helpful to me. I feel I can always refer to all the articles I received.”

If you know a young pregnant teen that can benefit from this unique and valuable program, contact the Tempe Union High School District at (602) 839-0292. Transportation is available to any student who lives more than two miles from the TAPP center. Please call Compadre High School if you have anything that can be donated for their store – there is a current demand for diapers. Phone: (480) 752-3560. Compadre High School is at 500 West Guadalupe Road in Tempe.