This story was produced by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
Detroit—For the first seven months of its existence, the Pathways Academy on this city’s east side had some noisy classrooms—really noisy.
Students in an English room on a recent morning were laughing and chatting so loudly—“And you was all wrong!” one exclaimed as her friend burst out briefly into song—that it was almost too loud to hear the babies.
Yes, the babies—a 10-month-old babbling on his mother’s lap as she plugged away at her computer, and a bigger boy, Dominic, nearly 2, careening around the classroom as he pushed a wheeled chair.
Dominic squealed with delight until smashing the chair into a desk and falling back against the floor.
“Waaaaaah!” he shrieked as his mom, Alaca Ponds, 18, ran to pick him up.
“He’s OK,” Ponds said, cuddling him against her shoulder.
It was not an ideal environment for learning, acknowledged principal Nate King, but Pathways is filling a crucial role for Detroit’s pregnant and parenting teens. This new charter, which opened in a shopping center here in September, is the only school dedicated to young parents in a city that has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country.
So even though the school’s daycare provider couldn’t get licensed in time for the first day of school—leaving some students’ children to play in classrooms and others to watch videos with babysitters—Pathways had to open on time, King said, or many of these students would have had nowhere else to go.
At a time when school options for teen parents are drying up across the country, schools like Pathways could—for better or worse—represent the future of education for young parents.
At Pathways classes are taught almost entirely online—not by teachers. This means students don’t write research papers or do science labs or engage in classroom debates that could prepare them well for college. But the learn-at-your-own-pace courses seem ideally suited to students who may need time off for maternity leave or to care for a sick child, or who may need to restart their educations months or years after dropping out.
Students can stay enrolled even if they can’t make it to class every day, and the lower academic costs in a school with fewer teachers can free up funds for badly needed support services, like counseling and transportation.