Holyoke, MA is a city with alarming rates of poverty and under-education. Holyoke has the highest percentage of children living in poverty, the highest teen birth rate, and the second highest percentage of children living in single-parent families in the state of Massachusetts. Poverty in Holyoke is especially prevalent among its population of teenaged Latina mothers and their young children.
The Care Center serves young mothers between the ages 16 and 21 and their children. We educate more than 120 young women each year, with approximately 60 students enrolled at any one time. Demographic data about Care Center students from the past 5 years show that:
- 85 percent identified as Latina/Hispanic
- All students reported a household income at or below 50 percent of the poverty level
- Nearly two-thirds had dropped out of high school by the tenth grade
- The majority of our students dropped out of school before getting pregnant
Most students at The Care Center have extremely challenging personal histories. Domestic violence, gangs, homelessness, food insecurity, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy and poverty are common experiences for Care Center students. Without high levels of support and the genuine opportunities for learning provided by The Care Center, our bright and promising students might endure lives of unrealized potential and unrelenting poverty.
In order to provide ongoing support to Care Center graduates as they move into college and to help improve their long-term outcomes, in 2005 we created “On To College.” Through “On To College,” our Transition Counselors are now able to follow Care Center students beyond graduation. In 2009:
- 16 percent of our graduates earned college credits before leaving The Care Center. (In 2010, the number of students who have earned college credits before they graduate has increased to 25 percent.)
- Approximately 85 Care Center alumnae were supported by our Transition program
- 46 were matriculated in college
- 35 alumnae were being guided through the college enrollment process
- Two alumnae graduated with their Associates Degrees from Holyoke Community College in 2009, one of whom was consistently on the Dean’s List, and two alumnae from previous years are currently enrolled in four-year colleges in the region
- 13 women received six credits from Bard College for completing the Clemente Course in the Humanities
Our culture does not expect teen mothers who have dropped out of high school to succeed in life. Care Center students, who grapple with the challenges of living in poverty and previous school failure, consistently prove that with adequate support and enthusiastic engagement in high-quality education they can and do exceed expectations.