WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — A Polk County Public School program is helping teen moms receive their diploma.
The day Amaria Dowdell learned she was pregnant at only 15-years-old, she thought her life was over.
“I found out I was pregnant September 26, 2020 and I thought that was the worse day of my life,” Dowdell said.
It’s how Jeyshka Garcia felt when she also became pregnant at 15.
“It’s just so much harder with a baby by my side, so I'm very grateful for this program,” she said.
She’s talking about Polk County Public School’s teen parent program, designed to help teen mom’s graduate high school. The program offers free childcare on campus, made possible by the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County.
“I’m like a little stalker of the daycare," Garcia said. "Where I just go in, peep in. See if he’s doing whatever he needs to be doing."
Students not only stay on track with regular academics but have a parenting class that they attend with their babies.
“I would’ve been home with my baby not knowing what I was going to do the next day, but with me being in this program it pushes me,” Dowdell said.
According to the CDC, only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22, whereas approximately 90% of women who do not give birth during adolescence graduate from high school.
“Girls usually face homelessness, parents who are upset when they find out they are pregnant," Teen Parent Program Director Latonnja Key said. "Some of the girls have a lot of challenges when it comes to the father of the baby."
Teen moms also take career classes to give them an idea of potential professional paths. Winter Haven Police officer, Dynisha Fulgham is a graduate of the teen parent program.
“So for the girls, just don’t give up because at the time I wanted to give up," Dynisha Fulgham said. "There were days that I didn’t know how I was going to make it."