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Saturday, 27 April 2019 03:55 am

Hutt teenage mums celebrate 20 years of their own school

Jun 23rd, 2017 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

A bouncy castle, magician and balloon artist were all part of the 20th birthday celebrations at the Upper Hutt school for teen parents last week at their purpose built facility.

Debbie Whitely, principal and teacher from the very beginning says most schools would wait till their 50th anniversary to celebrate.

Titiro Whakamua (Looking Forward) is not like other schools.

The teen parent unit (TPU) was established in 1997, the second in the Greater Wellington region.

From only one afternoon a week at a local marae, and after several location changes, Titiro Whakamua became a satellite of Upper Hutt College in 2000, and began teaching five days a week offering unit standards towards national certificates.

A report by the Ministry of Social Development and Auckland University of Technology studied 6711 pregnant teens from 2006.

The report shows 11% of women (or 486) enrolled at a TPU school were not going to school when they became pregnant.

Chance Mahukia (16) is one of those.

Mahukia says the school is a “second chance to get your life on track, which you don’t get often”.

She was put in touch with Whitely through a family friend.

“I wasn’t at school when I found out I was pregnant, but I knew I wanted to come here.

“Everyone goes through the same thing.”

New Zealand has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the OECD, but rates are slowly dropping.

In the May births and deaths report, Statistics New Zealand found that teen birth rates have fallen by 50% since 2008.

Today, 16 out of every 1000 teenage women have children. For those women, a teenage parent unit is the biggest opportunity to continue their education and achieve their National Certificate.

The MSD report found 35% of pregnant teenagers were enrolled at a TPU school after the birth of their baby, and that access to a TPU increased school enrolment rates for those women, compared to those living too far away from one.

Many students learn about the TPU through the grapevine – friends, families, alumni and health services point women towards the school.

Zoe Hailwood (19) learned about the TPU through her doctor. She enrolled a few months into her pregnancy and is studying with her four and a half months old baby, Juniper.

“This school makes you like things you didn’t before. At school I hated maths and now I’ve started to like it.

“Because of Te Kura [correspondence school] you can work at your own pace and take your time learning.”

The Ministry of Education built the current facility in Upper Hutt in 2003. It currently provides for up to 35 students and their children.

Today it has a fully licensed early childhood centre on site and a clinic for Vibe, the Hutt Valley Youth Health Service to use for antenatal check-ups and support for the young mums.

Youth worker Lisa Cutfield supports the girls transitioning out of the TPU and into the rest of their lives – hopefully into more education or work, says Cutfield.

“These girls are often working against their family or social structure,” she says.

Cutfield has been working at the TPU for eight years and developed the role she is in, which includes home visits, helping students find and pay for childcare and accommodation and navigating Studylink and other government services.

Janice Norton, teacher and social worker at the TPU for five years, feels strongly about the opportunity for alternative education.

“The reality is that mainstream education doesn’t serve these women’s needs,” she says.

“We encourage the girls to carry on their schooling – it’s an issue of momentum.

“The concept of learning while parenting is very counter-cultural and it can be very difficult to pick it up again later. This environment motivates them to keep going.”

The TPU also owns a 20-seater bus to bring students to school from as far as Wainuiomata to Lower Hutt.

Alumni student Kelsey Hyde (23) was 17 when she came to Titiro Whakamua pregnant with her eldest son Jaxon.

Her sister had also finished her high school education there, so knew the option was available.

Hyde says being at Titiro Whakamua was essential for her and her baby.

“All teen mums should go to a TPU. Otherwise they can end up isolated and depressed,” she says.

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