High School Yearbook Features Teen Parents, Sparks Outrage

An Arizona high school is facing stark criticism because their yearbook features teen parents. Although yearbooks traditionally honor sports teams and academic clubs, the 2014 Mesa High School Yearbook is unique. In a two-page spread, the yearbook honors students who struggle with balancing schoolwork and parenting.

The special section is titled “I’m Working a Double Shift.” Indeed, teen parents are tasked with attending school five days a week in addition to caring for their children. Although the yearbook has become a topic of debate, Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Hollands said it is a matter of free speech.

Although she does not condone teen pregnancy, Hollands said the feature is “a conversation starter.” The students were given the freedom to design their own yearbook and Hollands believes they were attempting to “put themselves in the context of their world.”

As several students are either parents, or expectant parents, the students simply wanted to document their struggles. However, Hollands notes that they may not have expected the backlash:

“When you have this kind of reaction from the community and the students to the content, it should help refine your judgment and inform your future focus on the appropriate content of your yearbook publication.”

As reported by NBC News, Kathee Merkley’s 17-year-old daughter attends Mesa High School. When she realized the yearbook featured teen parents she was disturbed. Merkley was specifically upset by a photo, that featured a pregnant teen with her boyfriend:

“When you look at the pages at first you think it is of a child development class… But then if you look closer you see the photo of the boy hugging the belly. I think that was unnecessary.”

Although the school district has received hundreds of angry phone calls, Hollands said the school will not apologize for the feature. She further explained that the school supports all students, including teen parents, “100 percent.”

Essentially, the yearbook is designed by students for students. The 2014 Mesa High School yearbook staff made the decision to feature teen parents as the issue is significant. Rather than glamorizing the issue, the article focuses the struggles faced by students who are also parents.

As Hollands explains, students who manage to balance parenting and schoolwork deserve some recognition for the effort. Becoming a teen parent is certainly not ideal or desired. However, for some students, it is a reality. Although the school does not promote teen pregnancy, they are willing to honor all students who excel.

The yearbook is certain to remain a topic of debate since teen parents are a controversial topic. Rather than cloak the issue, Mesa High school students made a decision to underline the students’ struggles.

[Images via Shutterstock and NBC News]

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