By SHIKIRI HIGHTOWER
In a small classroom at Hilltop High in the Mission District Ronnae Coleman and nine other teenage girls are concentrating on pinning down a frog’s leg. She first stretches the leg, then pins down the foot. Then with her goggles on she cuts the frog’s stomach open. Coleman looks for the eggs.
“They are right here,” said 17-year-old Coleman who after graduation dreams of being a nurse. “They are really small.”
Unlike most high school seniors Coleman and her friends include taking care of a newborn. But like other seniors, the students are also planning to go to college in the fall.
Take 17-year-old Cassaundra Quiles, for example. Quiles, an aspiring lawyer has a two-year-old daughter and plans to attend San Francisco State in the fall.
Before Quiles began Hilltop, the only program in the district exclusively for high school mothers, she failed to attend school. According to Quiles, with an abusive father at home, she got pregnant at 15 and soon found herself in jail for drugs.
Hilltop, she said, changed that.
“Hilltop is everything to me,” said Quiles who was two weeks pregnant when she was incarcerated and seven months pregnant when she was released. “Hilltop forced me to deal with my drug problem and overcome it.”
“If I didn’t have Hilltop I would probably still be on the streets, I would have given my baby up for adoption,” she said.
Jessica Campos, 18, said she plans to attend San Francisco City College this fall then transfer to San Francisco State University.
“ I want to be a nurse,” said the mother of two-year old Christopher. “I want to be independent and make my own money. Looking at my son pushes me, he makes me strong. I want to be somebody for him.”
After a 14-year-decline, U.S. teenage pregnancy rates have risen for a second year in a row, according to a report issued earlier this year. Nationally, the birthrate for 15 to 19 year olds rose 1.4 percent in 2007. This followed a 3.4 percent rise in 2006, according to The National Center for Health Statistics report released earlier this month.
For the last five years Hilltop’s numbers have stayed steady at around 100 students.
And, the number of mothers or pregnant high school students has stayed steady at about 120 students according TAPP.
Students at Hilltop have the same academic track as any SFUSD high school student. There are four full-time teachers, and three on-site nurseries.
“It was really hard in regular school while being pregnant.” said Gabriela Diaz who graduated from Hilltop High in 2004 and now works at the school. “It’s not as embarrassing. The other students judge you and put you in a box. Teachers here understand you, they understand what you’re going through and keep encouraging you to graduate.”
Also housed at Hilltop is The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Project, which provides education and direct case management to support all pregnant and parenting students in San Francisco.
At Hilltop, students have access to on-site childcare. Hilltop is not the only option for pregnant teens within the SFUSD, the girls can stay at their high school, but most chose not to.
“After you deliver you know your baby is going to have a space available at the nursery and you can continue going to school,” said Diaz.
“I nurse my baby seven to nine times during a day,” said 17-year-old Anita Leyva who checks in on her baby in between classes. She and her boyfriend Francisco live two blocks from the school. He says his parents are not in the United States and cannot help the couple raise their four-month old daughter Karla.
“Hilltop helps me be a better mom,” said Leyva whose favorite class is parenting. “If I graduate, she’ll graduate too. I can be an example for her.”
Chane Bowser, a senior at Hilltop, said her favorite class is also parenting. She says eight-month-old Zahmayah, motivates her to stay in school. Next fall Bowser says she’ll attend City College.
“Nobody can do anything on their own, if you’re an adult you know more but teens don’t really know as much as adults so we need more resources,” said Bowser.
Aletha Bowser, Chane’s mom said she was disappointed and shocked when she found out her daughter was pregnant at 17. She said she had her first child at 19.
“Hilltop provides stability and something to look forward to,” said the older Bowser. “I know she’ll graduate.”
Ann Darling, the science teacher said the school is necessary. “This school is important because it allows a pregnant or parenting teenager to continue their education,” said Darling.
“We do it with a little more nurturing and with a little more family atmosphere. We know each one of the students and each of their problems and they can adjust and became flexible and feel the family atmosphere and be successful.” She says she sees Ronnae Coleman as a future pediatrician not a nurse.
“She has passion, for everything in life but most of all for her son.”