Patty Gilman lets Kitty Kat do the talking for her at the daycare center for student moms and their toddlers at Silver Creek High School in Hailey.
Kitty Kat’s a hand puppet and Gilman is the director of the Bellevue Public Library. She comes to the school on Wednesdays to hold a Books for Babies session, an endeavor organized by student mother Karina Velasco for her high school senior project.
The children watch Kitty Kat closely as he addresses all three of them by name. There’s Emily and Alice, each about 1 year old, and Kaiden, going on 6 months.
Gilman has other helpers. Besides Kitty Kat, there’s “the old lady who swallowed the fly” and a dog puppet with a missing nose.
In addition to the puppet fun, Gilman sings silly songs with the children and their mothers, leads the group in toe wiggling exercises and then brings out the books. They’re small, hard cardboard books that the children can chew on without causing damage.
Though it all sounds like playtime, it’s actually a class in session, a class in which the students receive a high school credit while learning how to be good parents.
Velasco, the mother of Emily, attends the class daily along with Emily’s father, Edwin Chavez, a senior at nearby Wood River High School.
Velasco said she organized the Books for Babies weekly session because it helps children learn how to communicate better.
Chavez said he attends the class because it’s helping him be a responsible father and it gives him time to be with his daughter.
Teen parenting center
Officially known as the Blaine County School District Teen Parenting Center, the daycare center is now in its second year. Formation of the daycare center was somewhat controversial when it was considered by the district in 2011, and it nearly didn’t happen at all, with the board of trustees barely approving by a 3-2 vote.
“It makes it a lot easier to go to school and have peace of mind. School would be more difficult without this.”
The basic purpose is to help teenage mothers stay in school and complete their high school educations. However, the school also provides a place for parents to learn about being successful parents and for toddlers to learn about being successful toddlers.
When the moms are attending regular classes, the children are under the care of Desiree Kelly, the daycare center director, who teaches the kids simple art, sign language and basic letter skills, and makes sure they take their naps, get their diapers changed and have independent playtime.
Kelly said the center teaches the children “socialization” and helps them later “transition into school better.”
Student Yolanda Deleon, the mother of Alice, said she would finish high school even without the daycare center, but acknowledged that it helps her focus on her studies and takes away the stress of being a teen mother.
“You can come to school and still see your child and you don’t have to worry about them because they’re right next door,” Deleon said. “It really helps.”
Samantha Carlson, the mother of Kaiden, agreed.
“I’m thankful for the daycare,” Carlson said. “It makes it a lot easier to go to school and have peace of mind. School would be more difficult without this.”
Velasco said the daycare allows her to stay in school rather than having to find a job to pay for babysitting.
Meanwhile, back at Books for Babies, Gilman leads the group in singing “twinkle, twinkle, little star” and “the wheels on the bus go round and round.”
Gilman said there’s a deeper purpose to the singing rather than doing it just for fun.
“Singing is really great for literacy,” she said. “It helps them learn to break down sounds. Even if you’re singing what sounds like a silly sound, it has its purpose behind it.”
She noted that the toddlers are still a bit young to follow a story from a book, but introducing them to handling books now gets them used to the idea of what books are.
“Babies who grow up around books get used to books,” she said. “It makes a difference. They learn it’s not something they can eat and they learn not to tear them.”
As part of the session, Gilman hands Emily a drum to beat on and gives the other children finger cymbals to play with.
“This is one of my favorite times of the week,” Gilman said. “I do love coming here.”
Though funded primarily by the Blaine County School District, the teen parenting center at Silver Creek High School was recently awarded an $8,000 grant from the Seagraves Family Foundation, established from Powerball Lottery winnings of Janice Seagraves in 1996. The grant was channeled to the parenting center by the Blaine County Education Foundation.
Grads doing great
Desiree Kelly, director of the teen parenting center, reported that two of last year’s teen moms at the daycare center both graduated from high school and are now furthering the educations. Emma Burgan, mother of now 2-and-a-half-year-old Charlie, continues to live in Hailey and is working toward a career in nursing from College of Southern Idaho. Gabriela German, mother of now 2-year-old Emma, is living in Emmett and attending The Paul Mitchell School in Boise.
Terry Smith: email@example.com