Poor conditions plague Oklahoma City alternative school

BY MEGAN ROLLAND Modified: April 26, 2010 at 6:59 am •  Published: April 26, 2010
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The Oklahoma City school for pregnant teenagers and other at-risk youths lacks heat in some classrooms, has a computer lab infested with termites and a roof that leaks in the rain.

Emerson Alternative School, which offers day care for the girls’ babies and also serves at-risk young men, was built in 1894 and will be one of the district’s last schools to be renovated under the MAPS for Kids program.

"The students deserve a facility that looks like where they are trying to go, and that’s forward-looking and beautiful and clean and fresh,” said Sandra Bennett, an Emerson teacher.

Bennett, whose science classroom serves as a space for mommy training during her planning periods, said she watches every day as her peers help 115 young women overcome poverty and manage motherhood to continue their education.

The problem is that when they get to school, they must contend with cramped conditions and limited resources, she said.

Originally, the Oklahoma City district had allocated $1.8 million for renovations at Emerson from the voter approved half-cent sales tax known as MAPS for Kids.

"One of the things that we quickly identified was that the budget was not sufficient to meet the district’s needs,” said Eric Wenger, project manager of the Oklahoma City MAPS Trust. "We are recommending to significantly increase the budget to $3.5 million ... including a new building addition that’s 15,700 square feet.”

The school board will vote May 8 whether to increase the budget by pulling money from an unallocated MAPS for Kids line item for "alternative schools” and adding it to Emerson.

There are scores of teen mothers in Oklahoma public schools. About 7,600 babies were born to teen mothers in 2007, the sixth-highest birth rate in the nation, according to data from National Vital Statistics.

Bennett said many teens have the support at home through a parent who baby-sits or they are able to afford child care to continue their education in mainstream public schools. However, for others the option is dropping out or finding a program like Emerson.

Emerson offers mothers in Oklahoma City Public Schools a support system that includes an on-site day care and social workers.

"I’ve always had the same dreams; it’s just Emerson has made it a lot easier to get there,” said Angela Banks, a 16-year-old sophomore with two children.

Banks wants to study criminal justice at the University of Central Oklahoma and one day work for the FBI. However, before that, she has to complete school at Emerson, where the wall between math and language arts classes is so thin Banks can hear both lectures, and where she has to carry her bookbag and her diaper bag with her because there are no lockers.

"A new building would give us something to look forward to seeing, something to be proud of,” Banks said.