My circumstances do not define me! I am compelled to achieve! And I will ensure that my past choices do not hamper my future, because, I dare to dream!
It’s the mantra of Amela Skender, a young lady society considers a "statistic" because at 16 became a teen mom.
"Everybody tells you you can’t graduate after you have a baby," she said. "But I will never give up, especially now, because I’m not just trying for myself. I also need to succeed for my son, to give him a bright future."
For every 10 teen American girls, three will become pregnant at least once by their 20th birthday. That’s 750,000 teen pregnancies every year, and 25% have a 2nd child within 24 months of their first baby.
Those numbers decline drastically when teen moms finish school, but more than 50% never graduate high school, and only 2% earn a college degree by the age of 30.
Difficult as the task may be, Amela is determined to achieve her goal of becoming a dental assistant, and while the odds are stacked against her, she intends to prove them wrong. On August 25th she walked through the doors of the Kairos Academy, to begin the process of getting her education back on track.
The new public charter school will be serving Utah’s pregnant and teen mothers in a holistic environment that includes not only academic instruction, but also medical, counseling, child care and community connection supports.
"Teen moms have a high drop out rate," the school’s Board Chair Kevin Fenstermacher said. "So the idea here is to provide a balance of support systems that will not only get them through high school, but also thinking beyond that, to college and career-oriented services and training," he said.
Located in West Valley City, Kairos will enroll students regardless of district defined enrollment boundaries and will serve students of all income levels, cultural backgrounds and academic abilities.
Forty girls in pursuit of their high school diploma have already enrolled to join Amela at Kairos. The school hopes to increase that number to 100 in the near future, and has approved a total of 200 slots as part of a long-term growth model.
It has not been without a struggle however, while some members of society recognize the role institutions like Kairos play in reducing teen pregnancy and poverty rates by preventing repeat pregnancies, breaking generational cycles and ensuring teen moms stay in school, others ask why these teens should get special attention. They say it rewards bad choices.
Registered Nurse and Kairos Academy board member Lisa Smith disagrees. These teens do not need "special" attention, she said. What they need is attention, period.
"Our board and on site staff truly care about these girls. They are not just statistics," Smith said. "They have so much potential, and society downplays it too much sometimes. We intend to show them their potential is no different, and that they too can achieve greatness," she said.
It’s a sentiment not lost on Amela.
"They fought for us really hard. They didn’t give up on us, and I really appreciate that," Amela said of the school.
Speaking of the criticism and condemnation often dished out to teen moms, Amela said, "Yes, we made bad choices, but we can’t go back in time to change them. Kairos is giving us the tools we need to make the right choices going forward."
Kairos Academy and those who support the organization are changing lives two at a time, and for that, Amela Skender says, thank you!
To find out more about Kairos Academy and their services visit http://www.kairosacademy.org/?utm_source=UDS&utm_medium=SLTrib&utm_campaign=Native
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