TODAY   |  November 01, 2012

Detroit school helps teen moms get their degrees

Each year, nearly 400,000 babies are born to women aged 15 to 19 years. For many of these women, finishing high school is not an option, let alone getting a college education. TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager reports on one principal who is trying to change that.

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>>> each year, nearly 400,000 babies are born to young women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. for many of those new mothers, finishing school is not an option. but one principal is trying to change that. "today" contributing correspondent jenna bush -hager has more. good to see you.

>> good to see you. he has been giving teen moms the opportunity not only to finish school but to start a lifelong education process for their babies.

>> reporter: at first, the high school looks like any other. students in class learning, listening, taking notes. but just down the hall, a very different type of education is taking place.

>> we started a really developmentally appropriate early education program.

>> at the katherine ferguson academy in detroit, the soul of the school , andrews has created a loving environment not just for her students but also for their babies.

>> last year she was in the infant room, now she's in the junior toddler room. everything they teach the kids in there is great.

>> one of four high schools in the u.s. designated exclusively for high school mothers. with 220 students, the academy, which caters to pregnant teens and teen moms wasn't always like this. 26 years ago, principal andrews housed babies in a crib in her office.

>> it was a little program that was hidden, nobody knew about it.

>> reporter: as the demand increased, andrews saw the importance of creating an environment supportive of teen moms, but also gave their babies a head start .

>> what do the moms get coming to this school they wouldn't get in another school ?

>> they get a staff that is focused on them. that is not mad about them being pregnant or parenting, who celebrate the fact that even though they're pregnant and parenting, they're still in school and they're participating in making a life for themselves, giving themselves some choices.

>> reporter: choices that can transform these students' lives.

>> part of what happens, and it is kind of a bizarre thing to say. for many girls, getting pregnant in high school changes their lives in ways that i don't know what else would've. it's a lifesaver really.

>> if you weren't in this school , where would you be?

>> i would be out of school , i'd drop out. i wouldn't be in school . because i can't bring my baby to school , no one will watch him and i don't have the support team.

>> what do you want for all of your girls?

>> i want them to have a future that they determine. i want them to feel like they have some power to determine their own future and that they come back and give back.

>> do you guys want to go to college?

>> yes.

>> reporter: for the girls at the academy, heading to college is not just a dream, but a requirement. principal andrews won't allow any student to graduate without having been accepted to college.

>> you know all of us have something in common. and all of us could believe in each other that, you know, we can graduate stuff like that. i mean, i do.

>> reporter: the education these girls and their babies receive spans outside the typical classroom walls. for three years, select students have been afforded the opportunity to travel internationally. the academy's also the proud home to an urban garden and farm. a place where the city kids thrive.

>> my son, he likes just looking around us. when he comes up like he's never been outside before.

>> he's curious.

>> he is.

>> reporter: this school and its garden nurtured these students to raise a new generation of loving kids.

>> as my child gets older, i want to show her even though mommy had you at a young age, i still finished high school , still graduated, i went to college, you know. i made something of myself. and i'm going to tell her you can do it too.

>> for a city with one of the highest dropout rates in the country, it was inspiring to see these two generations excited about learning. and they actually go to south africa , which is amazing. and one of those girls said, you know, now i'm not just a girl from the block. i'm a girl -- i'm an international girl and i can tell my son that he's a kid of the world.

>> what an inspiration that principal is.

>> she's amazing.