Beat the Odds

Superintendent Kenneth Baca congratulates former Mountain Pointe student Suzie Rodriguez at the Beat the Odds celebration on Thursday. Rodriguez, 17, gave birth to her child a little more than two weeks previously.

Darryl Webb/AFN

Within the walls of Compadre Academy there are stories playing out that could no doubt spurn the whole spectrum of emotions.

Compadre, along with other schools in the Tempe Union High School District, including Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista, are not unlike other schools around the country when it comes to the frequency of teen pregnancy. But the program available to teens that operates out of the Tempe high school is unique.

The Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPPP) is available to all students — pregnant girls and the fathers — who find out they are going to be parents. They have the option to stay on their home campus and still have access to the resources of the program, or they can transfer to Compadre.

On Thursday, TUHSD administrators, teachers, students and their families celebrated the successful completion of high school by 34 students who are already parents or who are expecting to be. There is a mantra within the program — by graduating from high school, they are not becoming another statistic of a high school dropout. The celebration on Thursday was called “Beat the Odds.”

“Beating the odds was a must for me,” said Brianna Noble, a teen parent who attended Compadre. “I needed to graduate to set a good example for my daughter.”

Compadre offers resources such as daycare and modified school hours to help students graduate early, so they can move on to the next point in their lives, whether that is higher education or joining the workforce.

Also available to students is the Apples Store. For good grades and attendance, they receive Baby Bucks, which can be used to purchase diapers, wipes, clothing and more.

But the students say the biggest help is from the staff, who encourage their motivation to finish high school.

“I felt so much better when I moved to Compadre,” said graduate Suzie Rodriguez, who is a former Mountain Pointe student in Ahwatukee. “They make you feel comfortable because there are others that are going through the same thing. You know the teachers and staff are just always there for you.”

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), two-thirds of teen moms drop out of high school and 80 percent end up on welfare. In 2006, Arizona ranked fifth highest in the nation in teen birth rates, about 60 per 1,000 teens, 42 percent higher than the national average, according to the ADHS. The report also claims that about 12 percent of teen pregnancies end in abortion.

The number of graduates this year is significantly lower than in the past, said program director Bronwyn Paes. It isn’t because the number of teens who are getting pregnant is lower, but because the average age within the program is dropping.

Several girls who took the stage during Thursday’s celebration explained how they were 15 or 16 when they discovered they were pregnant. Paes, TUHSD Superintendent Kenneth Baca and Compadre Principal Sean McDonald all spoke about the merits of the program because these young girls, and their fathers, stay in school for the remaining years in order to finish.

“You are not a statistic,” McDonald told the graduates on Thursday. “But thank you for being a success.”

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