Program helps pregnant teens and young moms finish high school

An adapted high school program and other support makes it possible for young moms to continue their studies

Just getting through high school can be challenging for many teens; imagine trying to do it while raising a newborn. But there is one high school in Montreal that meets the needs of young women who are pregnant or caring for a baby.

Elizabeth High School is the only English-language secondary school in Quebec that offers a program to help young mothers complete their secondary education. This is done in partnership with Elizabeth House, an organization that offers housing assistance, childcare, parental support and counselling to young, anglophone mothers.

According to Head Teacher Louise Chaloub, many pregnant teens and young mothers find it hard to maintain a traditional class schedule while keeping up with their pre- and post-natal medical appointments. There are many other challenging factors, such as sleep deprivation, baby blues, financial worries and relationship issues. Chaloub also says many of these young women haven’t yet mastered basic life skills like cooking and budgeting.

“It’s very hard for single mothers – oftentimes they don’t have a lot of support,” Chaloub said. “The ones who do have family support do much better, but a lot of them are struggling on their own.”

To help set students up for success, the high school offers individualized help with both schoolwork and parenting. Students receive education plans suited to their needs, without the usual pressure to complete a grade within a specific time frame. New students can enter the program at any point in the year, and if they are not able to complete the coursework for a grade before summer break, they are able to pick up where they left off the following September.

“We don’t put pressure on them, but we strongly believe that education is the route to success for them as well as their children,” she said. 

The school provides breakfast and lunch programs, bus passes, and clothing, as well as group classes facilitated by Elizabeth House to help teach the girls about parenting, health and essential life skills. Free childcare for babies under 18 months is available on-site as is pre- and post-natal care. Monthly field trips and enrichment activities are organized such as visits to downtown Montreal or Ottawa, museum tours, concerts or theatre performances. 

The school typically has no more than 13 students at a time, ranging in age from 13 to 21, which helps foster a strong sense of camaraderie.

Chaloub said the intimate, low-key environment and one-on-one attention is very different from a typical school. For some students who struggled in school before becoming pregnant, the additional support has led to greater academic success than they experienced before becoming pregnant, she said.

On June 12, Elizabeth High School will host an open house for prospective students from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit elizabethhigh.ca.