About two years ago, teacher Elaine Stricklin ran into a former student at .
The young woman, who had a child while in high school, now had a four-year-old and two-year-old in tow.
She told Stricklin that her eldest had taken the pre-test for Kindergarten and teachers determined that her four-year-old had a vocabulary level of a third grader.
The young mother attributed her son’s early success to one program.
Six years ago, she was one of 17 teenage mothers at Sierra High School who received books for her baby in the first year of Books 4 Babies, a program Stricklin initiated with students at Sierra High School.
The mother told Stricklin she read to her son nearly every day using the books she received from the program.
“What an advantage this young boy is going to have,” said Stricklin. “I think this is proof of how much simply reading to your child can have.”
Stricklin developed the annual Books 4 Babies program six years ago after seeing a newspaper article about a Rotary Club in Georgia, which raised money to buy books for all the children born at the local hospital. Stricklin was inspired to start a similar program for the teenage parents at Sierra High School.
At the time, there were 17 teen mothers at Sierra High School. Stricklin went to community organizations in Azusa and Glendora and raised enough donations to purchase at least five books for each of the mothers.
Stricklin said by providing books to these parents, she hopes their children would develop a love for reading and increase school-readiness in their children.
“We just want to make sure that all young families have books to read their children,” said Stricklin.
Now, the program has grown to 56 students across five schools and programs – Sierra High School, Gladstone High School, Whitcomb High School and the CalSAFE program.
The 20 students in Stricklin’s GATE program assisted Stricklin with the program. Throughout the year, Sticklin gathered donations from numerous community members and organizations in Azusa and Glendora, and purchased the books from Blue Chair Children’s Books in Glendora.
During a tough economic year, gathering the monetary donations to purchase books needed for each child in the program was a challenge.
Two Glendora Girl Scouts from Troop 8674, Madison Spriggs and Kami Hagemeyer, gathered old children’s books and refurbished them to make up for the shortfall.
On Monday, June 6, parents were presented their books during a reception.
“This book is not just a piece of cardboard or paper, this is an experience between you and your child,” Cindy Romero of the Glendora Public Library told the young parents. “This is both education and entertainment for you and your child.”
For Sierra High School student Joann Garcia, 16, the program offered inspiration for the young mother to use reading as a way to prepare her 20-month-old son for school.
“You don’t really expect that kind of support as a teen mom,” said Garcia. “A lot of schools will kick you out if you got pregnant. It’s good to know there are programs like this for teen parents.”
According to Stricklin there are currently 12 teen mothers at Sierra High School. While there is a steady stream of teen parents needing services at Azusa Unified School District, some programs risk losing funding.
The Los Angeles County Office of Education has partnered with the Azusa Unified School District to implement CalSAFE, a program that helps keep teen mothers in school.
Although the program has had a consistent number of enrollees each year, the program will be immediately cut once enrollment falls below 20, said CalSAFE Coordinator Caroline Fernandez.
“Not only have our students graduated, but about 40 percent of them go onto college,” said Fernandez. “It would be a huge loss for these parents if we were to lose the program.”