The following post is from Simone Stigal, a student attending the Family Care Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
My story is very strong. I come from a home with substance-abuse parents and was removed from it right after I delivered my daughter. I am now living with my grandmother, who is very strict but she means well on my behalf. It took me some time to understand why my grandmother was strict. I now know, because we have chores and only certain people are allowed to be around us that my grandmother loves us. She knows our safety is in her hands! My grandmother was an advocate for me attending the Family Care Center, a school for teen mothers. Many of you probably think, “Oh, she’s attending the bad school for troubled youth, because it’s called alternative placement.” Places like Martin Luther King Academy or Day Treatment ring bells to some of you, right? The Family Care Center is an amazing place for teen mothers to go. You attend school like any other school. We still have the same requirements - be in class by 8:15 or you’re late, attend electives if they are on your schedule, and school is over at 2:55 when you’re dismissed. Hooray!
I came to the Family Care Center in 2011, which would have made me 14 years old and a very young immature mother. My daughter, Laveaha, is now a very active 3-year-old who also enjoys reading in my spare time. She also attends “school” at the Family Care Center. While I’m learning algebra, English and science, Laveaha is learning her ABC’s, 123’s, colors and shapes.
I chose to attend FCC, because I didn’t want to become a “statistic.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this amazing teacher with a heart as big as the ocean came to know me on the inside and out. She comes to school with a big heart. She doesn’t tolerate any foolishness, I can tell you that. It took me three years to get with the program, when my time was finally coming to an end.
Laura Zimmerman, or Ms. Z as we call her, has taken me so many places that I just don’t know how to repay her. Right now, I want to cry and hug and thank her because when her time comes to retire, please believe me she will be missed. She has put up with stubborn, upset, screaming mothers who just were mad at the earth and she has made them smile. She has had a lot of students graduate from her class quickly because she is strict, as well, and wants you to graduate as soon as possible. I was told by a former teacher I was the worst test taker she had ever seen, but with Ms. Z’s help and with time, those wounds will heal. When I came into school, I was the “grouchy lady bug” because I just couldn’t face that math. Ms. Z would always give me that big push I needed. “Come on Simone! We gotta get this done. I want you out of here!”
Ms. Z is so inspirational! This year we won the Fayette County Recycle Bowl, which is commonly known as the pop can collection. Ms. Z and her mother basically did all of the work. I’m proud to say she’s my teacher and that I have had the time and experience to meet her mother. I attended the conference and rode with Ms. Z and her mother, just feeling safe and excited!
Whatever book I was reading, Ms. Z was willing to see where the author was appearing and if we could attend. Because of Ms. Z, the Family Care Center and I, as a VIP, attended a nice fancy place to meet Liz Murray, the author of “Breaking Night.” For those of you who don’t know who Liz is, I know her well because Ms. Z made this possible. I got to speak with her and take pictures with her, and our stories are related. She was also raised with substance-abuse parents and was homeless most of her life. She never really attended school and was in and out of foster homes. As an adult, Liz earned her GED diploma in only four weeks.
One day Liz’s life story changed. She saw an article in the newspaper talking about scholarships, and the essay requirements were to tell about your current living situation. So she did, and guess what? She was the winner! The newspaper found her story very honest, bold and open as well as heart-wrenching. She had earned the scholarship to attend Harvard University! Because of Ms. Z, I got to meet with Liz. We made a deal that if she would buy me a book, I would type her a letter about my life and be honest with her.
Just as Liz had many ups and downs, so did I. Ms. Z dealt with me through my ups and downs. When I cried because things weren’t the best at home, she would understand. She would give me breaks to pull myself back together, but would not let me slack on the reason why I was attending school - to get my education. When I felt like I was losing hope, my main saying was, “I can’t do this. Can you please help me get my GED!” Then her response was, “No, I will not. To get the GED, you have to already have learned all this right here. You are not ready, Simone; pull yourself together and come on or go have your little fit and get back in here!” Yes, I had plenty of those with Ms. Z. She was the main reason for all my good grades, because she gave me the time of day and the attention I needed! That’s why I am blessed to say she is my teacher and will always have a special place in my heart.
The things she does have a huge impact on our lives. Many students come to our school and say, “Oh, I can’t stand Ms. Z because the way she acts.” She’s very demanding when it comes to our education and doesn’t want talking. “Less talking, more working!” That motto right there sounds about right to me.
One day I came in the classroom kind of upset because I can’t stand math, so Ms. Z and I tried to learn it together. When that did not work, she took it into her hands to learn it herself. She is an amazing teacher! She walked next door and asked the teacher to teach her the lesson. It is amazing and a privilege to have a teacher who is willing to go out of her way for you to get your education. She is an English and science and social studies teacher. Her degree is not in math, but I bet with all the help she has given me, Ms. Z can teach that, too. She always seems to read our “funky” moods and encourages us to review, even when we think we can do it alone. When we don’t, and we look kind of silly because we flunked the test, she never says “I told you so” but encourages us to do better next time. What is that saying? “Never bite the hand that feeds you!” She’s always willing to help you no matter whether you’re in the best mood or not. But what she will do is pull you out of the room nicely and ask, “Can I have a word with you?” She treats every student who comes into her classroom with respect. You have to give to receive; that’s the way I’ve seen things happen.
When all hope is lost, there’s always that person behind you to catch you before you fall. I believe that’s Ms. Z. Whenever Ms. Z travels, she brings her classroom something back. Trust and believe, I have something from Florida from every year and I have something from New York as well. She’s not big on herself, but she has a huge heart when it comes to sharing with others.
In school this year and every year I’ve attended the Family Care Center, Ms. Z has made good connections in Lexington and many other places. She promotes our school every day of her life. She goes out and tells the community about the place she works. She makes me believe that teen moms really do have a chance in this life. She knows people in the community, like the HOPE Center, and they supply us with many lovely goodies such as chocolate doughnuts, gum and Pringles! We never go without! At the Family Care Center, we have a store for the mothers where they can go and purchase diapers, wipes for your child, their daily needs and household essentials. But the key is you have to earn them by attending school daily and completing classes!
Ms. Z is a true supporter of the mothers’ accomplishments. If there are nice things or events going on in the community, she will tell the class as a group! But if the whole group cannot attend, Ms. Z will try to attend the event and provide transportation for as many as possible. I am always the first one to raise my hand. “Yes, Ms. Z, I want to go. Me!”
I just want to express how blessed I am to have such an amazing, beautiful and outgoing teacher in my life. She means the world to me. I don’t know where I would be without her and her amazing talents. She has always been the person to say “Meet me half way!” I want to say this year, I finally did meet her half way. When I graduate, I want to come back and give back to the Family Care Center any time of the day because it is needed. Thank you, Ms. Z, for being there for me and seeing my potential.
The opinions expressed in Public Engagement & Ed Reform are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.