One Teen Mom’s Struggle To Stay In School

Nov 18, 2014

Shaquille Johnson and 17-year-old Julia Miller get their 2-month-old son Logan ready for daycare at Benjamin Franklin High School, where Miller is a senior. It is the only day care center for student parents in Baltimore city's school district.
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WYPR

    

It’s about 6:30 a.m. and 17-year-old Julia Miller, dressed in jeans and tennis shoes, is ready for school. But before she can head out, she has to wake up her two-month-old son, Logan, and feed and dress him. Miller already fed him sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and fell back asleep. “I’m exhausted,” she said as she trudged up the narrow stairs to her room in the small townhouse she shares with her mom, older brother and Logan’s father, 19-year-old Shaquille Johnson. He works afternoons in a grocery store and was walking around sleepily helping Miller with the baby.

He and Miller have been together for more than a year. He said he moved in with her family after having problems with his mother. They stumbled around each other in her small room, with Miller kissing and tickling Logan as she changed his diaper. With Johnson’s help they got the smiling baby dressed.

Before moving to Baltimore two years ago, Miller lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her aunt and practically raised her young cousins. Still, Miller never expected to be doing this for a child of her own at this age. “I had so much going for me,” she said. “I did basketball, volleyball, softball and it was a big shock to me when I found out I was pregnant.”

That was in January and by March, Miller, who was on bed rest for most of her pregnancy, missed so many days of school that she stopped going, she said.

Benjamin Franklin High senior Julia Miller gives her two-month-old son Logan a bottle at the day care center for student parents.
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WYPR

Miller is one of nearly 1,000 teenagers who became parents in Baltimore in the last year. In addition to childcare being an issue for them, they often become overwhelmed with balancing their school work and the needs of their children that they stop going to school.

After having Logan, Miller said, “I didn’t know what I was going to do about school or how I was going to take care of him. I wasn’t used to having my own baby and he cried a lot, and I couldn’t do it. I was too stressed. Luckily I had my mom around, his dad and my brother to take care of him.”

Even when she was ready to go back to school, Miller still had problems. Her mother, brother and Johnson all worked, leaving her with no one to take care of Logan. So, without a regular babysitter Miller missed school so often she stopped going. But then the district’s only day care center for student parents opened at Benjamin Franklin last month. It was a saving grace for Miller and other teen parents at the school who miss school a lot because of child care issues. “When they opened the center, I was so happy I could come back to school,” she said. “I didn’t come back until Oct. 20 and the school gave me all the back work I needed in order for me to pass this quarter. I got most of it done.”

But being a parent and going to school is still challenging. As Miller wrapped her son up and placed a blanket over his stroller she said she rarely has time to eat breakfast. On this morning, it’s raining so Miller balances a large umbrella in one hand and slowly pushes the heavily laden stroller down the sidewalk with the other. It takes about five minutes to get from Miller’s home to the ramp that leads to the door of the daycare center. “I’m glad they built this ramp because I used to pull the stroller up all those steps up front,” Miller said as she knocked on the door and received a big welcome from the center’s staff, along with a barrage of questions.

“How did Logan sleep last night?” asked Keya Chambers, a center aide. “When was the last time Logan ate and is he changed?” She continued as she took Logan in her arms and told him she missed him.

Miller briefly spoke to another teenaged mother who was so thin she looked like an elementary student. Her baby was in a crib nearby. “We all try to help each other out in some way and since I’m older, I try to keep them on track,” Miller said.

With her son being fed, Miller sounded tired as she got ready to leave to begin her school day. But because of the day care center, she left feeling that he was safe in the hands of trained child care professionals. “I miss him when he’s not with me,” she said. But they love Logan here and the staff is so nice. They don’t let the babies cry and they’re on time with changing and feeding them. I just love it. I trust them to take care of him,” she added as she headed to her first-period class.

As for her plans after graduation this year, Miller is in the process of applying to Coppin State University, where she wants to study forensic science.