By Cynthia Reugh for The Spokesman-Review | Source: The Spokesman Review, Spokane WA
The high school graduation rate for teen mothers paints a bleak picture. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only half will receive a diploma. Many in this group face emotional challenges from past trauma and abandonment. Those issues are often magnified by difficult home situations.
Aaliyah Osteen does not want to become another statistic. Osteen has lived in Spokane for most of her life. Her teenage years saw a steady shuffle between foster homes. After becoming pregnant at the age of 15, she lost friends at school and felt judged. Her foster parents at that time enrolled her at Lumen, a public charter high school in Spokane created to serve teen parents, where Osteen has since found a safe, welcoming environment.
“Often students have to choose between being a parent or being a student. It’s hard to do both, and so at Lumen, our goal is you can come here and you don’t have to choose,” said Lumen principal Melissa Pettey, who has become Osteen’s “No. 1 person” over the past three years.
“She’s really shown that I can trust her and go to her for anything,” said Osteen, who brings her daughter, Presley, now 2 years old, with her to school four days a week. The colorful rooms of Lumen are chock-full of valuable resources to fit their layered needs, including a medical clinic, counseling and child care services at nearby GLOW Children Early Learning Center.
“I’ve made a lot of friends,” said Osteen, who enjoys social studies and has found success as a writer, who recently won second place in a local writing competition. Her writing also was featured in Teen Ink, a national publication which showcases the creative works of teens from around the world.
While Osteen’s journey with Lumen has been bumpy at times, Pettey has never questioned her commitment to finish the job.
“She knows a high school diploma is going to affect her daughter, because she knows the statistics. If she doesn’t get a high school diploma, then there’s a large chance her daughter won’t get a high school diploma,” Pettey said.
As graduation nears, Osteen’s focus has shifted to college.
“I’m going to wait until my daughter starts kindergarten and then I’m going to school for political science,” said Osteen, who would like to work in politics or perhaps even at Lumen, where her input and ideas have been valued by staff members.
“Aaliyah has just been on this journey with us (through) all of the changes and just giving feedback,” Pettey said.
“We’re so close. We talk regularly when she’s not here. She sometimes will call me her mom at school,” Pettey said. “She’s just a part of my family.
“I’m looking forward to the point when she graduates and our relationship can shift in her adulthood to look differently than it does now, because I just know that we’re going to be friends for a really long time.”