How Oklahoma City Public Schools is keeping teen moms in the classroom

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OKLAHOMA CITY – 18-year-old Darayah Seleres has her hands full.

Finishing her last semester at U.S. Grant High School.

And pounding the pavement during track practice.

One assignment she never imagined was taking care of a her own baby.

“I was caught off guard because I was running track and I was basketball manager and I was gaining weight and I was like why am I getting fat? I’ve been skinny my whole life so I’m trying to run it off. Trying to run it off and it’s not working. So then I went to the doctor and I was like, ‘I’m gaining weight and I don’t know why.’ She gave me a pregnancy test and it came back positive. I was four almost five months pregnant,” said Seleres.

A shock to say the least. At just 16, Darayah was going to be a mother.

Adoption wasn’t an option for her and neither was quitting school.

“I had it in my head I was going to keep going no matter what because I always told myself nobody problems get into your way keep going,” she said.

But she was going to have to do it without the baby’s father.

“He was one of those ‘oh it’s not my baby,’ but I had my boyfriend at the time. Even though it wasn’t his baby he said I’m still going to help you so he helped me,” Seleres said.

Darayah isn’t alone. Here in Oklahoma — the teen pregnancy rate is double the national average. And oftentimes, those young mothers don’t finish school.

Only 38% of teen parents under 18 will earn a high school diploma, but Oklahoma City Public Schools is hoping to change those numbers.

“Students are referred to us in various ways. Either their counselor, their teacher, someone that’s a supportive adult in their life that recognizes they need some extra help,” Judith Cope Teen Program Parent Coordinator for Oklahoma City Public Schools said.

“We are doing a lot of education in our schools. We partner with Variety care and city council health to have adolescent health educators in our buildings that actually do some educations on positive relationships,” Teri Bell, executive director for student support services at OKCPS said.

Two teen parent program coordinators help students navigate their new world. The district also provides six weeks of maternity leave for young moms.

On top of that — a daycare inside two schools. Those schools located within the same zip code that sees some of the highest rates of teen parenting in Oklahoma.

“The need is there. We have a student population here who most of our students are children of poverty. Our poverty rate is around 92% – 93%. A long with that comes with all of the difficulties of living that lifestyle and so one of the things is a higher teen pregnancy rate,” U.S. Grant Principal Greg Frederick said.

U.S. Grant currently cares for eight children at the daycare each day paid for by Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit in Oklahoma City.  Capitol Hill also has a daycare.

“Now with the daycare I can come to the school, drop him off, go to class, go to my sports, get him and then come home,” Seleres said.

Darayah will graduate in May, and her future looks bright.

“I’m going to college at Langston University. I’m going to be studying for physical therapy,” she said.

A determined young woman — both in the classroom and on the track field.

“I’m just happy about the fact that she’s still out here because a lot of kids if something like that was to happen I won’t see them again,” Track Coach Tim Mccoy said.

Another shot at success for students whose situation could have easily stopped them in their tracks.

‘If a young adult finds them self with a child, many times it changes the trajectory of their life so if we can keep them in school and continue those opportunities you know in the long wrong they will have a successful family,” Bell said.

A school district that saw almost 8,000 students drop out in the 2016-2017 school year — now hoping to set teen moms on the path to graduation, and beyond.

And believe it or not — Oklahoma being ranked number two in the country is actually an improvement.

We used to be number one. Arkansas has now taken over the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the U.S.

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