Ten years ago Professor Laura Johnson began volunteering as a mentor to young teen parents at Albizu Campos High School and Family Learning Center, a campus of Youth Connection Charter School. She recalls that there were very few programs in place then to assist this segment of youth in completing their education, getting a diploma and continuing into college or a career. As she recollects her personal experience, “some of them were not doing their school work, but not because they didn’t value education, as they were extremely responsible, but they were having a difficult time juggling educational opportunities, job and family responsibilities.”
After a decade of engagement with these young teen parents, Dr. Johnson, now a faculty member of Northern Illinois University’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, together with students whom she has mentored, made a joint presentation on intergenerational mentorship to a standing room only, enthusiastic, national audience at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio, Texas, this past April 30.
“Young parents right now see education as more important than ever, but it’s still a major challenge for them,” Dr. Johnson told the audience. As the students took to the stage to present their findings and conclusions on their intergenerational mentorship project, they shared with the audience their podcasts, public service announcements and hashtag campaigns, such as #teenparentpride, that poignantly revealed their hope for a better future for their children and themselves. Dr. Johnson sees this research “as a method of civic engagement because it’s having them participate in larger conversations, something that will enable other young parents to find resources that are of assistance to them.”
Thanks to a Research Artistry Grant, funded by Northern Illinois University, Dr. Johnson and her students will be continuing their work this summer through a Youth Participatory Research Study on connecting young parents in Humboldt Park with the services and programs that are available for them in the community. They will strive to challenge pejorative stereotypes of young parents as “having ruined” their lives with little hope of academic or professional success, by creating a new narrative that demonstrates how young parents can be deeply involved in their communities, and academically successful when appropriate supports and resources exist and are utilized.
We will check back with them throughout the summer to see the progress that they are making.