Young mothers go back to school

00:02, Feb 19 2013
Teen parents
SECOND CHANCE: Teen Parent Unit student Flicka O'Brien with her sons, Oscar, 2 and 8-month-old Carter, at the Auckland Point Kindergarten before going to study at the Teen Parent Unit.

Eleven young Nelson mums have packed their baby bags with books and headed back to school, thanks to new funding from the Ministry of Education.

The young women are enrolled at Nelson College for Girls' new Teen Parent Unit (TPU), hosted by Auckland Point School.

Nelson Soroptimists and the Abel Tasman Education Trust set up a Teen Parent Unit at Nelson's Impact Church in April 2011, giving pregnant teenagers and new mums an opportunity to finish or further their schooling in a baby-friendly environment.

The Government provided about $100,000 last year to transform a spare classroom at Auckland Point School into a suitable unit for teen parents.

Student Flicka O'Brien said the previous unit was great but a bit disorganised, and there was a high turnover of staff.

Head teacher Phillipa Trewavas said this was due to a constant lack of funding.


Nelson Soroptimists will continue financially supporting the unit, but the students' education has now come under the umbrella of Nelson College for Girls. The move meant the "special character" unit could receive full Ministry of Education funding.

While Nelson College for Girls is a decile 7 school, the TPU is rated 1A - the lowest decile. This qualified it for the highest level of ministry support, NCG principal Cathy Ewing said.

Most academic work was co-ordinated through Te Kura correspondence school, Ms Trewavas said, though any New Zealand Qualifications Authority qualifications could be pursued.

One mum is sitting a 12-week veterinary nurse correspondence course through the Southern Institute of Technology, while others are working on NCEA courses.

Hannah Pattinson, 19, said the TPU was helping her "get somewhere" in life and ensuring that her 4-month-old son Keelan had a "good mum".

"If I hadn't got pregnant with Keelan, I'd still be working in a pub, getting nowhere."

Ms O'Brien, 22, left high school at 15. She said having her sons Oscar, 2, and Carter, 8 months, had inspired her to return to study.

Ms O'Brien and other slightly older young mums can enrol at the TPU, as long as there is space in the 20-person capacity class. Eleven young women are currently enrolled, and teen dads are welcome as well.

Students can bring their children to school and leave them at Auckland Point Kindergarten, on the primary school's campus.

An unused classroom adjacent to the TPU class is being renovated as a second, closer base for the babies.

Ms Trewavas said the setup allowed mothers to be at peace about their babies' safety and welfare while they were in the classroom working on their individualised education programmes.

"I really like the way [the parents] come to the teen parent unit eager to learn, and with a desire to achieve well."