School Age Parenting Program nurses complete Lactation Counselor Training Course enhancing support for students

Spring can be an especially busy time for pregnant and parenting teens. There’s prom, Easter egg hunts, Eid al-Fitr, Holi, Passover and other festivities,  the summer school enrollment process, all alongside their typical school responsibilities. Then there’s the excitement of pending graduation for some. 

Nurse Michelle and Nurse Ashlee

Michelle Alkinburgh, BSN, RN and Ashlee Anzalone, RN, health care coordinators at the Racine Unified School District’s School Age Parenting Program (SAPAR), recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) in an effort to further support their students who are managing the multiplicity of being pregnant or parenting in high school. 

The duo is proud to report that many of their young parents choose to breastfeed even while juggling all of their other demands.

“We have many moms who breastfeed the first few weeks and have had three moms who breastfed for a year!” they exclaim.  

In the U.S., one estimation suggests that of the  “approximately 425,000 infants born to adolescents… only 43 percent will initiate breastfeeding, in contrast to 75 percent of mothers of adult age…” [Kanhadilok, et al, 2015]

Over 30 years ago, the state of Wisconsin required school districts to provide programming and services to school-age parents. As such, SAPAR  programming has been in place since the requirement was established.  

SAPAR is intended to retain pregnant and parenting students in school, promote academic progress, increase knowledge of child development and parenting skills, improve, decision-making regarding healthy choices, prevent subsequent teen pregnancies and child abuse and neglect, including that of the teen mother, and assist in post-secondary education and/or employment.  The program is open to all students under the age of 21 years who are not high school graduates and are parents, expectant parents or have been pregnant during the last 120 days. [Retrieved from https://rusd.org/academics/alternative-programs/pregnant-parenting-teens

Alkinburgh and Anzalone report that they average around 100 enrolled students each year.  During the 2022/23 school year, they served 104 students.

Healthy Children Project’s Carin Richter notes that programs like SAPAR aren’t often sustained for as long as Racine’s programming; instead,  they’re often met with a lot of opposition and are frequently cut from school budgets, she observes.

“I am impressed with the school district that promotes her program and the school board, PTA, and school staff that encourage this type of program,” Richter offers. 

The team comments on their strength and sustainability: 

“[Our program] has two nurse case managers with extensive knowledge and experience in maternal and child health, allowing us to help when medical issues arise, not just for our parents but also their children.  We provide health education, childbirth and parenting classes, and assist with community resources and academic needs.  We work together as a team with our students, families, school staff, medical providers and community partners.  

The national average graduation rate for teen parents is about 50 percent,  but our program changes that!  Last year 94 percent  of our eligible Seniors graduated providing more job opportunities, financial stability and college or apprenticeship options. Teens 15 to 19 years old also have higher rates of infant mortality and maternal complications. We had zero percent.”

Students Anika Moreno and Gregory Sanders Jr. pictured with their child.

Each work day is different for the duo. There are no defined hours and they often work with students for several years.  

“Our work requires a lot of flexibility and patience, but it is so rewarding to see our students succeed,” they begin. “We provide school visits throughout the district, and also phone, virtual, home and community visits to meet the individual needs. You may find us busy helping students get health insurance, find a medical provider, manage pregnancy symptoms to stay in school, check a blood pressure, obtain a medical excuse, meet with support staff, talk to a parent, help enroll in community programs, get a crib or car seat, find diapers, etc.  We may be assisting with childcare, nutrition, housing, employment or transportation needs.  We also do a lot of health teaching and use evidenced-based curriculum specifically designed for young parents to help them learn and have an opportunity to earn additional credit toward graduation. Our goal is that our students stay in school, graduate high school and have healthy babies.”

Teenage dads can get a bad rap, but Alkinburgh and Anzalone note that “they really want to be great dads.” The nurses offer individual, joint and group meetings for young fathers and cover topics like infant care, co-parenting, child support, etc.  

“We try to make learning fun and engaging,” the duo says. “For example, we may have a diaper changing race or have them practice giving a baby a bath with our infant model and newborn care kit.” 

To add to their skill-base, the team needed to do some unlearning about breastfeeding myths through the LCTC.  

“Now that we know the newest research-based facts, we can best educate our students,” they say. “We already started using the awesome counseling skills they taught us in the training and it has really helped us ask more open- ended questions to address students’ concerns and goals.” 

Overall, the nurses have experienced a positive attitude for breastfeeding in their community at large. For instance, the district offers private lactation rooms in each of their schools for staff and students to use when needed. 

For those interested in supporting the program’s mission, the team offers: “Be kind, supportive and share with others how truly valuable a program like ours really is!” They also suggest donating, volunteering or partnering with community organizations that help support their students  like the Racine Diaper Ministry, Salvation Army, Cribs for Kids, Parent Life, Halo, and United Way. 

Find the program on Facebook here.

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