'I didn't think it would happen to me'
Blossom Project brings harsh realities of teen pregnancy to MVHS students
Every time Iajady Paz returns to Mountain View High School to work with the Blossom Project, she wishes she were still a student.
"I'd rather be in the audience looking at them," she said.
Paz, 17, has a 2-year-old daughter and is a member of the Blossom Project, a Mountain View nonprofit made up of teen parents who educate middle and high school students about some of the harsh realities of parenting. Paz was a student at Mountain View High when she became pregnant, so returning to school brings back memories of her past life.
"I like being here," she said. "I miss high school and my childhood and my friends. When you're in high school, you have freedom."
A group of four young Blossom Project parents visited Heather Boyle's health class at Mountain View High School on May 18 to share experiences and statistics about teen pregnancy and to send the message that high schoolers should cherish their youth and their freedom from parental responsibilities while they have it.
"What they can bring is reality," Boyle said. "Having four people who have really lived it makes it so much more real."
But Boyle said that some girls who get pregnant at young ages have their children even before they arrive in her 10th grade health class, so the message should come earlier. Blossom had provided a similar presentation at Crittenden Middle School the week before.
The Blossom Project, a program of the Community Health Awareness Council, started in Mountain View in 1999, as a response to the high rate of teen pregnancy compared with the rest of Santa Clara County. Darelda Medina, now 26, co-founded the program while she was in Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education Young Parents' Program.
"Mountain View was considered a hot spot for teen pregnancy," Medina said.
Medina said the numbers have decreased, but Latinas still have higher teen pregnancy rates than other groups.
In addition to Paz, the presenters were two young mothers, Shannon Coxon and Maria Medina, and a young father, Christian Garcia. All live in Mountain View and don't look much older than their student audience.
"I felt invincible," Coxon said, while telling the class that she and her boyfriend had gradually become less vigilant about using birth control after they became sexually active. She became pregnant at age 15. "I didn't think it would happen to me," she said.
Coxon, who used to attend Los Altos High School, now lives with her parents in Mountain View with her 3-year-old daughter, and also works and attends Foothill College. She said she'll be in school for a long time before she earns her degree since she cannot be a full-time student.
She and the other Blossom presenters explained the paradox of having a child at a young age. They agreed that their parents started treating them like children again, but at the same time also like adults with the huge responsibility of raising their own children.
Blossom's program coordinator, Amberlin Wu, believes the performances are important so that students hear the personal stories that often get hidden.
"When a girl gets pregnant, she kind of disappears, but her life is totally changed," Wu said.
Blossom also provides a support network to the young parents, who are able to relate to one another and share their feelings with an understanding group of peers.
While they all love their children, the presenters explained to Boyle's health class how they struggle to give their children time while also working to make money and earn a degree and advance their careers. They spoke of troubled relationships with their families that resulted from having children at a young age, and how hard it was to afford basic supplies for their children. They passed out a sheet of paper to students in the class listing costs of diapers, a crib, baby food, and other necessities.
"We don't have enough money to do what adults can do with their kids," Coxon said.
The most powerful part of the presentation for some students in Boyle's class was that they recognized the presenters from school.
"They were normal kids and they went to school like us," said Mountain View High senior Annie Pho.
Senior Teresa Chavez liked that the presenters used the truth, and not scare tactics, to convey their message about the difficulties of being a young parent.
"We see videos that are so extreme," Chavez said. "This was real life."
The Blossom Project originally received funding from the county's Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Network, which had received a large grant from the Packard Foundation. That funding has since run out, and though Blossom also receives funding from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the nonprofit has found itself strapped for cash, Wu said.
Wu said the Blossom Project is planning to hold a garage sale in June and is accepting donations of goods. For more information on the Blossom Project, visit www.blossomproject.net.
E-mail Molly Tanenbaum at email@example.com