Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Two hundred and forty-nine girls.
Two hundred and forty-nine lives that can be saved.
Two hundred and forty-nine students whose paths can lead to graduating, working and nurturing a next generation of productive citizens ... or to dropping out and becoming another 249 mothers depending on the state.
Which is the best use of tax dollars -- educating women or increasing the number of Michigan residents with no hope?
That's the question Detroit Public School officials should ask themselves this week as they shut down Catherine Ferguson Academy, the nationally recognized school that, for a quarter century, has provided unique support, including a day care and kindergarten, for pregnant girls and young mothers. In an effort to balance the budget and rightsize the district, officials are throwing the babies out with the bath water.

Learning about caring

About 5,000 girls have gone through Ferguson, and every graduate in the past 10 years has been accepted to college, said Asenath Andrews, founding principal of the school. Former student Dr. Charletta Dillard, who graduated last week from Wayne State University's School of Medicine, called the academy "an absolute blessing."
"I felt safe in that environment," she said. "And I felt that my education was important because those around me felt my education was important."
Dillard, now 37, was 14 when she got pregnant. At Ferguson, she said, she learned not only math and science, but how to care for a child.
"You can't have that in a regular Detroit public school," said Dillard, who passed her work ethic on to her 22-year-old son, Troy, a Detroit homeowner who delivers pizza while attending Wayne County Community College.
Despite student sit-ins, community protests and the national news media weighing in, Ferguson's doors are scheduled to be locked Friday. No charter company has gained the rights to run it. No sponsor has stepped up to pay for it.
It will be a sad day for Andrews, who still isn't giving up.
"I'm just praying for a miracle," she said. "It's not as hard as parting the Red Sea."

There are options

Andrews said DPS officials told her Ferguson was being shut down because "it was too expensive, and the building was too big for the number of students."
Oh, well if that's the problem, officials should consider these options:
• Open a full elementary school in the same building.
• Expand Ferguson's farm program into a vocational program for urban agriculture.
• Open a school in the building for the fathers of all those babies, whose lives are so much better thanks to Ferguson.
Oh, and the nearly $13,000 the district says it costs per student? That is nearly the same amount -- $13,032 dollars -- the state would pay out in cash, food and other assistance for a non-working mom with one child.
Then there's this: Andrews said the children of uneducated teen mothers enter kindergarten having heard 60 million fewer words than the children of more affluent parents. I don't know whether it's that many, but I do know this:
The three words they shouldn't hear, their mothers shouldn't hear, arewe don't care.
The academy and all those girls deserve that miracle. I hope DPS gives it to them.

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