A-H program helping teen parents finish high school education for 2 decades

ined Anoka-Hennepin School District’s Child and Parent Education Program (CAPE), she said she didn’t realize what a tough job teen parents have.

“They are stuck between two worlds; they want to be a teenager but they also want to be a good parent,” said Bennett, CAPE’s supervisor. “And besides going to school full-time and caring for their child, many students have jobs on evenings and weekends. It amazes me sometimes how resilient the students are.”

With the goal of helping teen parents graduate from high school, for almost 20 years, the Anoka-Hennepin School District has operated CAPE, a non-profit childcare center serving infants and preschool students of teen parents enrolled in district schools.

Like for-profit childcare centers, CAPE offers high-quality care. Unlike traditional childcare centers, CAPE is part of a system that provides support and encouragement to the children’s parents. Parents using CAPE’s services are required to take a life skills class with a slant toward being a teen parent.

Unless the parents of a child in CAPE have an income that allows them to make a co-payment, CAPE fees are paid through county childcare assistance. Transportation to CAPE and to the parents’ schools is provided by the Anoka-Hennepin School District. CAPE is not available during summer months. If a student parent is in summer school, arrangements are made for other care.

Licensed to care for 28 infants and 21 toddler/preschool students, CAPE has eight employees, including Bennett and Margaret Muenchow, a CAPE aide.

In addition to childcare, CAPE’s staff connect young parents into other resources. Bennett said they can help teen parents seek help with housing, financial resources, health questions, and interventions for their children. If there is not space for early childhood staff to work with a child in the teen parent’s home, CAPE offers space for this interaction.

“We don’t just say, ‘here you need to make this phone call,’” Bennett said. “We provide overall support for teen parents and their children.”

Bennett said without CAPE and the transportation services, many students would not be able to finish high school. Not finishing high school could have a long-term impact on the lives of a teenager and his or her child.

“A recent study looked at the difference between parenting teens who graduate from high school and those who do not,” Bennett said. “Those who graduate from high school have a better chance of living above the federal poverty level, have successes and better provide for their child.”

Muenchow said former students who used CAPE stop by and update the staff on what they are doing; many are working full time or going to college.

“They say if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t be so productive and without our mentoring they don’t know where they would be,” Muenchow said. “A lot of our moms don’t have support at home. It’s nice to be there for them and share information about how to care for their child; it’s a wonderful feeling to have such an impact on their lives.”

As a nonprofit, CAPE accepts donations from the community. The program is most in need of stimulating equipment for children, glider chairs, diapers, and new or gently used clothing. Because of regulations, CAPE does not accept donations of toys. For information about how to make a donation, contact Bennett at 763-506-1561.