STEPPing it up for teen moms
Fourteen-year-old Claudia Herrera did nothing to prepare for the birth of her son Marc Anthony. It wasn’t because she didn’t care or that she didn’t have support. It was due to the fact that until she delivered the six-pound baby at home by herself, Herrera didn’t know she was pregnant. Now, almost four years later, Herrera is readying herself and little Marc Anthony for the next big step – college.
But she didn’t succeed alone. As one of more than a dozen teen mothers enrolled in the Sierra Teen Education & Parenting Program (STEPP), Herrera was given the opportunity to keep up with her studies, socialize her baby, and learn parenting skills from other mothers and trained professionals.”Without [STEPP] I don’t think I could have stayed in school,” Herrera said. “And my baby was able to develop his social skills better here than he would at home or with a baby-sitter because he is able to be with other babies and learn.” A group of area family and youth advocates, seeking to do something to benefit pregnant and parenting teens, started STEPP eight years ago. “We wanted an infant/toddler center for early childhood development, and a program that would help teens become good parents and be able to graduate,” said Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s STEPP overseer Laurie Martin.
To help parents succeed, the center, which is located adjacent to Sierra High School in Truckee, is visited regularly by Tahoe Women’s Services, Project MANA, and other organizations that offer information and resources.The rate of second pregnancies among teens is highest within 15 months of the first delivery, according to Cindy Maciel, STEPP manager. But STEPP has brought that number well below the national average, with only two repeat pregnancies in eight years. “More than 30 girls in our program have graduated from high school,” Maciel said.
A few of them have remained at the center employed as instructional aides. But the state funding that pays those salaries only goes so far, said Martin. And in order to meet the goal of turning STEPP into a state-of-the-art early learning model, additional funding is necessary. “We really do count on community support and donations,” Martin said. “We would like to have more child development and educational supplies, and parenting and career materials and resources.”For more information on STEPP, contact Maciel at 582-2521.