Deborah Hedden-Nicely is the head instructor at the Marion Pritchett School in north Boise. The school educates junior high through high school-aged women who are either pregnant or parenting. She also founded Boise Weekly in 1992 with her husband, Andy Hedden-Nicely.
BW: How did you get involved in working at the Marion Pritchett School?
DHN: When Marion died after 25 years of teaching at the school in 2002, I had been substitute teaching and they asked me to fill in. I worked there for two years before becoming the head instructor.
How many students do you take care of and what does the school offer?
We have approximately 30 students, pregnant or parenting, throughout the year. We have on-site day care for their children up to 2 years old.
Why does the school exist?
It is very difficult to manage a pregnancy and academics at the same time when you are a teenager. Originally, the Salvation Army set up in the 1920s Booth Memorial Homes across the country to help young pregnant women who needed a place to live if they were abandoned by their families. Over the years, the Salvation Army cut back on the services the homes provided and this year closed the girls dorm turning it into a homeless shelter.
Unwed pregnancy--especially among young women--more accepted today. How has the school changed over the years?
As recent as 15 years ago, what was occurring was that students would come to the school and live there. Then, an equal number of students would release for adoption, and then they'd return to their former school or family. Now, 98 percent of students that come to the school are parenting. So now we're taking care of two people, not one. We are seeing more and more students who are economically needy. They require a lot of social services and the length of the need is not just nine months. It is three to four years.
So if the Salvation Army has cut back on its support for unwed, pregnant girls, where do they go now?
There's kind of a gap. If you are over 18, you can go into a shelter. But under 18 years old, you can't do that. You need friends and family to help support you. Housing is not available anymore, and last year we averaged about 10 girls at any one time. I don't know where they go now. I have also been reaching out to the community. Local businesses such as Albertsons, church groups and organizations have donated diapers, Christmas gifts, formula, wipes and other things to help. This year, particularly, we've been relying on community participation.
Is the school district supportive?
Pregnant teens are already at risk. Their lives as teenagers are over and they are psychologically and socially at risk. The school district has stepped in and provided what we need. A special education teacher, a tutor, food services has been attentive to special prenatal nutritional needs. We get the same attention other high schools get, and they have actually stepped up their commitment as our needs have changed. They've been doing this while money from the legislature has not been flowing as well.
What is important about this school?
Young women have no earning power, especially without a high school diploma. The community needs to continue to be concerned. While teen pregnancy has gone down, it is still there. Teens have made a choice, and the choice is to parent, not give up for adoption. The community supports this school, liking the idea that we empower these girls to become successful.