Defend Public Education

Detroit Free Press Online Commentary: Don’t close Catherine Ferguson Academy, a lifeline for teen moms in Detroit

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 14, 2011

As published on the Detroit Free Press Opinion Page:

Briana Patton, 16, a 10th grader at Catherine Ferguson Academy and her baby Marianna , 1, along with  teachers, supporters  and other students march and rally to keep all Detroit Public schools open in May in front of Robert Bobb's office,  Detroit Public School's then Emergency Financial  Manager.

Briana Patton, 16, a 10th grader at Catherine Ferguson Academy and her baby Marianna , 1, along with teachers, supporters and other students march and rally to keep all Detroit Public schools open in May in front of Robert Bobb’s office, Detroit Public School’s then Emergency Financial Manager. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press


Nicole Conaway is a Detroiter, teacher at the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women, activist in the Detroit Federation of Teachers, author of the blog and member of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.


For the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), a Detroit Public School for pregnant and parenting students. CFA offers small classes, a modified schedule and dual enrollment for recovering lost credit and a head start on college, healthcare for moms and babies, birth through pre-K early education and more. CFA teaches students they have worth, and their lives aren’t over because they’ve become mothers. All graduates are accepted to college and assisted in obtaining financial aid.

Because they value CFA so much, six students and their supporters held a sit-in at the school and were arrested for their efforts to defend their education.

State-controlled DPS claims the “extras” CFA provides are too costly. But, most funding for CFA comes from separate funding for at-risk and low-income students, not the DPS general fund. Want more ways to reduce the deficit? Forgive the debt incurred under state-takeovers, don’t cut corporate taxes, and create a regional, integrated school system operating on economies of scale. There is money for whatever we value as a society.

In the March 31 guest column “Improve lives and city by keeping young moms in school,” Benita Miller described Detroit’s lack of services for pregnant and parenting teens. She was right — more services are needed. Pregnancy is the number-one reason women drop out of school. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 70% of teen moms do. However, for more than 20 years, Detroit has had one the nation’s best resources for teen mothers. Now it is on the verge of being taken away

In 2004, Michigan spent $115 million imprisoning sons of teen parents. We spend $35,000 per prisoner annually. Children of teens are 13% more likely to be incarcerated, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The money spent on early childhood care at CFA is a wise investment in their future and ours. It provides the foundation they need and deserve.

One CFA graduate just completed medical school. Another is about to have her first art show. If CFA closes, thousands more young women with this same potential will dropout. All of them and all their children deserve the chance to achieve that potential. For this they need CFA, and so does Detroit. And right now, they need us to stand with them by joining them on June 16, starting at noon, as they rally to keep CFA open. The collective action taken at CFA this spring helped to keep several schools open. Hundreds of supporters had planned to attend the hearing for CFA that ultimately was canceled. If all of those supporters and more show up on Thursday at noon too express our collective power, we can win a great victory for the CFA students and for our community.

Miller was right. Keeping Detroit’s young moms in school is key to improving our city. We need CFA to stay open to provide the best possible chance for a real future for them, and for all of us.




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