School for Teen Mothers, “Jewel of Detroit,” Closes

How many stories do we have of education that works right? How many stories do we have of young women being empowered? How many stories do we have of pregnant and parenting students being given childcare, support and a chance at completing their education and going to college? How many stories do we have of sustainable farming in the middle of urban blight? How many stories do we have of Detroit setting an example for the rest of the country? I don’t know. But I do know that as of June 17, we will have one less.

The Catherine Ferguson Academy, a stellar example of how a school can meet the needs of pregnant and mothering students, is being closed by the school district’s emergency financial manager. One of only 4 similar programs in the country, the school is also a working farm where students are trained in animal care, entrepreneurship and farming. Their children attend daycare and kindergarten inside the school. The school has a 97 percent attendance rate and a 90 percent graduation rate.

When I first heard about the school in 2010, right when stories about Detroit and $100 houses were everywhere, it seemed like an impossibly happy program: sustainable food, empowered students, childcare galore! On the Canadian radio show As it Happens, student Cierra Hamiel proudly spoke about students traveling to South Africa for a business conference, her pride in feeding her son food she had grown, and her love for the school. It was a story ready to be made into a movie: all inspiration, all with the promise that it did indeed work. And it did work.

But that doesn’t matter. Even though students organized a sit-in in April to protest the possible closing of their school, and large presence of community support, the school district has decided to close Ferguson Academy along with several other schools. Rachel Maddow reports that the reasons given to her by Principal Asenath Andrews for the closing were cost and a declining student population. The school currently serves over 300 students.

These students are expected to transfer to their neighborhood schools, where they will have to find their own childcare. Principal Andrews told Maddow,

I’m so afraid that most of them will just quit… I’m not at all hopeful that our girls are going to get back into school if we’re not there…I think they feel that nobody gets how important it is for them to be there…or how much success they’ve had since they’ve been there.

Andrews recounted the story of a past student who recently graduated from medical school and had deeply valued her time at Ferguson. When asked what her own future plans were, Principal Andrews said “I think I’m going to retire.” She looked devastated.

This is a frustrating story on all levels, and one that does not have promise of a happy ending. It’s important to bring as much attention as possible to the great work that the students and faculty at Ferguson Academy have done, and the model of education, support, and mentorship they have made. You can sign the petition here.

World Socialist Website has coverage and a two part video on the school.

TOP: Catherine Ferguson Academy student paints protest signs with her daughter on segment of Rachel Maddow show.

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  1. Jan Dymond says:

    The first thought that occured to me is…..I know there has been a lot of talk about kids being “entitled”…..that we’ve catered to them far beyond the healthy point…..but I think we were talking about the kids of our power population, not the kids of our disempowered population. Talk about denial and blame the victim all roled into one, eh?

  2. I do not understand how we can keep on with the attitude that our children’s lives are more important than ours. Whether it be on the topic of abortion, or educating young women, we see funding go towards programs like Great Start for Kids or Head Start and minimal support for the women in charge of raising these children. What kind of message does this send to the CFA students, and young women in general? It perpetuates the self-sacrifice that mothers are often subject to, and it tells these women that their hard work and clear accomplishments are worth little in the eyes of the authorities they remain under. These women, and this school, has a higher graduation rate than most of the Detroit area schools, not to mention the community contribution – do we want to save Detroit, or not? If this school is closed, what is the alternative and what does that offer to the community as a whole? Why remove something already established and proven valuable? What do we value in Detroit? Our youth? Hope? Clearly not. These women will be left with a compromised education, and the notion that their hard work wasn’t enough. Already marginalized and facing a mountain of stereotypes and critique as teen moms, they have worked hard to shatter those menial expectations, to prove that teen moms don’t have to be another statistic on the wayside, and this is what they get.

  3. Please join us at… – It’s a Facebook page gathering support to make contact via various sources to try to keep this school opened. Come on over! We don’t have a lot of time! 🙂

  4. It figures!! Anything good is destroyed, all the bad stuff is perpetuated. Did anyone compare the cost of continuing to run the school for these 300 students with the cost of throwing them out on the street and the ensuing consequences?

  5. ALL OUT TO CFA June 16th RALLY STARTING AT 12 NOON – Hundreds of Supporters coming!

    2750 Selden Street, two blocks north of MLK/Mack, one block east of I-96

    Unite in Action with The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women (CFA)!

    Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a Detroit Public School. CFA is a JEWEL of DETROIT and it is about to be stolen from our community- we must defend it and defend ourselves. CFA students are standing on their feet fighting to defend public education, fighting to stop the destruction of programs in all of our schools through class size increases and elimination of our teachers, and against the closing of all of the public schools on the closing list. CFA is on the list to be closed. It is a school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. At CFA, our sisters, cousins and friends, are not treated as outcasts, but are cared for and treated as fellow persons with value. CFA is a regular comprehensive high school, where the students can bring their children. There is early childhood development and pre-school, and nurseries. There are doctors, nurses and others who come to the school to provide services for the students and their children to make sure that they are all successful. There is also a wonderful farm with goats, ducks, chickens, honeybees, fruit trees, vegetables and even a horse. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

    Call and Fax letters to:
    Roy S. Roberts
    Emergency Manager
    14th Floor, Fisher Building
    3011 West Grand Blvd.
    Detroit, MI 48202
    Phone: (313) 870-3772
    Fax: (313) 870-3726

  6. It’s NOT closed yet! Students and community are determined to keep it open!

  7. The word “closes” in your headline isn’t horrible enough to be accurate. Buildings close, but projects are said to be terminated or ABORTED. The cold, calculated termination of the only hopeful WIN/WIN educational option open to these young women (whose babies’ futures also are negatively impacted) and, shown in this decision, the apathetic disregard for the chronically unmet need ALL WOMEN SHARE to INCREASE (not decrease!) our painfully limited choices/chances for gainful and personally rewarding overall success –despite the mixed “blessing” of our wombs!– along with the fact that this tragedy is the result of one or two MALE overseers’ poorly researched, utilitarian “business decisions” all bring to mind this issue’s uncanny similarity to the universally reviled/repugnant tragedy/sin that is forced, male-ordered, totally unnecessary fetal abortion. Every woman in the world should pick up her phone and protest the ABORTION of Detroit’s “jewel,” CFA.

  8. Fred Nadelman, LMSW says:

    A school of this type is one of the best means of breaking the cycle that involves total dependency on public resources. These young women should not be deprived of a chance to accomplish this goal.

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