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School of life
For Heather Gerking and Brenda Caudill and their children, the future looks brighter in part due to the GRADS program of the Central Kitsap School District.
The young ladies are part of the program which helps students who are pregnant or parenting to graduate, learn about making a brighter future, taking care of their children and planning for tomorrow.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health, half of young women who become pregnant in their teens do not graduate high school. The GRADS program, which stands for Graduation, Reality and Dual-Role Skills, assists the young women with school and graduation but also helps in many other ways.
The curriculum for classes assists the young women with learning positive self improvement skills such as practical problem solving, communications and relationship building.
The program also assists the young ladies with their pregnancies and early parenting with education on personal and child wellness, maternal and fetal development, labor and delivery and postnatal care.
The program also educates and assists with adjusting to parenting, teaches child care and child development skills and seeks to assist the young women with other facets of motherhood.
Economic independence is another goal of the program. The program assists with career planning including options for higher education, job search skills and assisting with college planning.
The program offers a licensed daycare to help care for the student’s children while the young women work toward graduation.
Christie Neill, coordinator and instructor for the program, said the program has a strong success rate for graduation and said of the 15 to 20 young women enrolled in the program each year it is rare for a student in the program not to graduate.
Gerking said she has learned a lot in the program and it has made a difference in her outlook for the future.
"I would not be in school right now if I did not have this program," she said.
Gerking said she wants to continue through college and work in nursing or as a day care facilitator.
She said the program has shown her that she is able to overcome what might seem like obstacles and taught her skills she can use through college and the rest of her life.
Caudill said she is on track to graduate early, and the program has helped her with her primary goal of making a better life for her daughter and helped her grow in many ways
“I don’t think of myself first; I think of her first,” she said. “Without this program I probably would have dropped out of high school.”
Neill said she feels a sense of pride in helping the young mothers and enjoys seeing a sense of pride develop in the young women as they become more successful in planning and achieving better futures.
One young woman in the program will receive the school’s outstanding senior award, she said, and another student who recently received her associate’s degree and had been accepted into the registered nursing program at Olympic College.
"We are graduating kids," she said. "And they are becoming successful.