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.

Full spectrum doula facilitates multilateral programming to support BIPOC breastfeeding

When Meah El, SFW, TCP, CBE, a Full-Spectrum Doula, Education Specialist, Doula Team Leader and Cribs for Kids Coordinator at The Foundation for Delaware County, was just eight years old, she landed her first job. On summer trips to New England, El would help her aunt in her in-home daycare.  When her aunt gave birth to a premature baby in her late forties, El was the only one her aunt trusted in helping out with the baby.

“I always say that my career found me,” El reflects.

She stayed on this early education career path, later working with Maternity Care Coalition as an Early Head Start advocate. Through this work, she became trained as the first doula at their site.

“I loved it ever since,” she says. “Birth work is the crème de la crème.”

El remembers one of her first clients, a 15-year-old mother, and struggles to put into words just how amazing it felt to help a birthing mother.

To enhance her ability to support lactating and breastfeeding clients, El took a breastfeeding course with Nikki Lee  and now, she is one of the latest recipients to earn the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship which covers the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). A colleague of hers is also working through the LCTC, so they have scheduled a weekly meet up to review the course material together.

El is dedicated to helping BIPOC families reach their breastfeeding goals and dedicated to improving overall health within BIPOC communities through healthy infant feeding.

While Chester and Delaware counties have relatively high breastfeeding initiation rates, the overall infant feeding culture “hushes” breastfeeding, and BIPOC families are up against barriers to breastfeeding like lack of education, familial support, and skilled lactation care, as El explains.

During Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW) 2023, El facilitated a celebration complete with henna artists, reiki sessions, infant foot massage, aromatouch hand massages for parents, brunch and a breastfeeding photo shoot. El will curate the images from the photo shoot into an art installation during next year’s BBW celebration.

Moreover, El is working to establish a lactation cafe, a peer breastfeeding support group run by breastfeeding champions in the community, and mini trainings for staff at The Foundation.

Logo by Meah El

In order to combat breastfeeding misinformation on social media, El will create social media “shorts” with practical breastfeeding information that will be disseminated through the organizations channels. El is also in the process of working with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recognize breastfeeding-friendly businesses.

All of these efforts are part of El’s goal to create a supportive environment around breastfeeding.

“If there’s no community support and no support at home, [the system] is built to fail,” El begins. “I want everyone to win.”

El encourages Our Milky Way readers to share their breastfeeding photos on social media and tag #delcobreastfeeds in order to normalize breastfeeding. She also reminds readers to explore the multitude of programs available at The Foundation for Delaware County. You can contact El directly for direction.