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The Class of 2015 poses for a photo with some of the Pathways Academy faculty and staff following the graduation ceremony held on Friday, Aug. 28 at the Julian C. Madison Building. The 10 young ladies are Pathways Academy’s first graduates since the school opened in Oct. 2014.

Behind the sheen of all of its recent development, Detroit is still facing a wide range of problems.

Unfortunately, many of the issues directly affect the city’s youth, who suffer from the repercussions of poorly managed schools, high crime rates, gang violence, and a host of other issues.

However, one of the most significant challenges facing city youth is teen pregnancy. In fact, according to state statistics, in 2013 nearly 1 in 10 Detroit girls between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant. The staggering numbers show that it is indeed a tough issue to combat, though some have tried.

You may remember the Catherine Ferguson Academy. For 9 years, they were a nationally recognized institution that provided a unique and powerful alternative for pregnant teens, or teens with children, who were considering dropping out of school to figure out how to raise their children.

Unfortunately, the school closed in June of last year, and when it did, the community was devastated. The school was a haven for students who needed help navigating one of the most challenging experiences teens can face, and without it, many teen girls were left with limited options and little hope.

Detroit Public Schools realized the void left by the closure, and that same Fall announced that it would open a school with a similar mission to Catherine Ferguson.

The school is a charter called Pathways Academy, and they have just successfully graduated their first class of 10 seniors.

Ms. Pearson, Pathways Academy's director of recruitment, kisses Alicia Bevele after the graduation ceremony.
Ms. Pearson, Pathways Academy’s director of recruitment, kisses Alicia Bevele after the graduation ceremony.

As a single mother herself, Principal Michelle Parham understands the plight of the students that the school serves. Born and raised in Detroit and a graduate of Detroit Public Schools, she spent the first half of her education administration career in Georgia, before returning to Detroit in 2007.

“Pathways Academy focuses on reminding these young women that success is possible even in what seems to be a very difficult situation,” she tells us, “we help our students set goals for themselves and encourage them to work diligently toward those goals by providing a strong support system for them.”

Pathways Academy can enroll up to 200 students, grades 7-12. In addition to a quality education, each student has access to onsite day care, as well as free breakfast and lunch. They are also enrolled in mentoring programs where they work closely with professionals who help them set achievable goals through vision boards and other tools.

Ms. Pearson, Pathways Academy’s director of recruitment, poses for a photo with high school graduate Ashley Buckner.
Ms. Pearson, Pathways Academy’s director of recruitment, poses for a photo with high school graduate Ashley Buckner.

Additionally, the girls have access to parenting workshops provided by the Children’s Aid Society of Michigan. These courses help teach the girls the cornerstones of good parenting, from the basics, like how to hold their newborn baby, to more involved nurturing practices.

For teens facing an unexpected pregnancy, Parham wants them to know that there is plenty of support available to them at Pathways.

Graduate Regina Pickett holds her son while wearing her cap and gown. Pickett was one of 10 graduates from Pathways Academy high school.
Graduate Regina Pickett holds her son while wearing her cap and gown. Pickett was one of 10 graduates from Pathways Academy high school.

“While it’s certainly a challenge, it is what it is. Speak up. Get help. Get a diploma. There is no reason you can’t still be successful,” she says.

It’s clear that Parham is extremely proud of her first graduating class, and offers the girls this advice as they enter the world outside of Pathways:

“While we have been here to help, understand that this was just a stepping stone. Don’t stop here. Go on to a four-year university, community college, technical school – some form of higher education. That’s how you will ensure success for you and your child.”

What to know and where to go on the Daily Detroit Podcast