The federal Education Leading to Employment and Career Training – Teen Parenting Program educates teenage parents on financial issues, public transportation, and banking skills, while keeping them enrolled in high school and on track to graduation. It’s offered locally through the Greater Johnstown School District, serving those students and students from Ferndale, Westmont, Richland, Conemaugh Valley, Blacklick, Central Cambria, Forest Hills, Windber, and Conemaugh Township school districts.
“We want to see all our teen parents graduate,” says Jane Matthews, ELECT – Teen Parenting Program Coordinator for Cambria and Somerset counties. “Teen parents who don’t graduate are more likely to become part of the negative statistics. They achieve a lower income. There are also negative effects on the children and the community when the parents did not complete their high school education.”
About 70 teens a year go through the program locally. “They’re always so grateful,” says Jane. “They feel like they may not have graduated without it.”
When they start out, most of the students have limited experience, if any, in reading their bills, questioning discrepancies, and managing a checking account. ELECT teaches them how to navigate a budget, while taking care of bills and all of the other financial needs that arise in managing a family.
Students also learn to ride busses so they can get to work or school, and they learn about riding public transportation safely with young children.
A $2,500 grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies offset costs for childcare and public transportation. ELECT pieces together other resources through collaborations with other community groups and organizations. Without continued funding, parents who already face big barriers in pursuing their education and careers would have the added burden of transportation and child care. For some, that combination is insurmountable. Jane says many of them may drop out before they complete their high school education.
“We’ve had to get creative with our funding,” according to Jane. “We’ve had to adjust some funds around in order to completely pay for this program. The funds donated by the Community Foundation truly helped.”
The effort seems to be well spent. To date, none of ELECT’s parents have withdrawn from school for lack of childcare or transportation — which means they’re one step closer to beating the odds.