Kasey Hughart beams with pride when she talks about her past students. Like many high school graduates, several went to a university or technical college. Some went right into the workforce.
But unlike most teens in high school, Hughart’s students were either expecting a child or were already parents while they were working toward their diplomas.
“It was dedication right there,” Hughart said of her students graduating. “They’ve overcome so much, and we want to help them have a safe, healthy life.
“And success looks different for everyone. Some of these students, they just wanna graduate high school and go to work, and that’s completely fine but we want them to at least have their diploma so they can at least have some options for economic mobility.”
Hughart, a case manager with the Strong Tomorrows program based in Nathan Hale High School, helps expecting and parenting teens meet their goals, navigate the health care system and get connected to daycare services.
Over the past two years, the program has been in its pilot stages at Nathan Hale High School and East Central High School. But as Tulsa Public Schools gears up to start classes Monday, the program is expanding to Central and McLain high schools.
The program’s expansion comes after the Margaret Hudson Program announced earlier this month it was closing.
One of the goals behind expanding Strong Tomorrows is to help the district “offset” the loss of Margaret Hudson, said TPS spokeswoman Emma Garrett-Nelson. The effort is funded through United Way and George Kaiser Family Foundation, she said.
Strong Tomorrows is designed to give pregnant and parenting teens support, and training for prenatal care.
“The program focuses on four target areas: improving access to health care, increasing graduation rates and college or career readiness, enhancing parent involvement, and providing access to certified childcare facilities,” Garrett-Nelson said.
In March, Margaret Hudson announced it would close its Tulsa location following budget strains. Earlier this month, program directors said it would end completely with the closing of the remaining Broken Arrow campus.
Beginning in 1968, the program served as an alternative to traditional high school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. On average, it served about 170 girls annually.
Financial issues started last year when it lost $385,990 of its Oklahoma Early Childhood funding from the Oklahoma Department of Education due to state budget cuts.
Then, earlier this year the program learned the Tulsa Area United Way would no longer provide $385,000 in annual funds.
Oklahoma is second in the nation in teenage births, and teen pregnancy is a leading cause behind high school dropouts. Only 51 percent of women who become moms in their teenage years will get their diploma by 22. That’s compared to 89 percent of women who were not teen parents.
Last month, Oklahoma programs designed to prevent teenage pregnancy lost millions in federal grants following the Trump administration’s decision to cut finding to programs nationwide.
Three state programs lost almost $8 million in funding and will likely go away.
With the expansion of Strong Tomorrows, the program will place a full-time position in each high school, as well as a full-time father coordinator, said Omare Jimmerson, social services coordinator at TPS.
Jimmerson, who heads Strong Tomorrows, said the program also reaches students attending junior highs that feed into the four high schools Strong Tomorrows is established in. On average, schools keep a caseload of 20 students.
The program for expecting and parenting teens is working to establish a support group that students from schools without Strong Tomorrow coordinators can attend, Jimmerson said.
“While I think Margaret Hudson was great, it was created in a time when girls weren’t welcomed in their school, so they were pushed out,” Jimmerson said.
“But I think sometimes they still are facing some of that stigma, so what I want to do for girls because some girls need that, they don’t want to be at their home school, my goal is to add an alternative school at some point.”
Following the closing of Margaret Hudson, Broken Arrow Schools revamped a similar program geared toward expecting and parenting teens.