By Danielle Kutchel
When Rozi Myint found out she was pregnant, her first reaction was fear.
Not of the pregnancy journey, or even of giving birth: instead, she was scared of what people would say about her.
As a teenage mum-to-be, Rozi had heard all of the stigmas, and she was horrified by the judgement dripping from people’s mouths.
“They’d say ‘she’s a young mum, she got pregnant at such a young age, she won’t succeed, won’t finish school, won’t have a good life’,” Rozi recalls.
“Those words were so hurtful.”
She was determined to challenge those perceptions – and this year, she was the first person to enrol in the Young Parents Education Program (YPEP) at Hallam College.
YPEP offers pregnant or parenting young people a chance to re-engage with their learning to finish year 12 – levelling the playing field for them for future employment and training.
It’s an inclusive space, with cots, baby toys, food and drinks around the room: parents can bring their babies to class with them, and a parent supporter is on hand to help with feeding, changing and sleeping while the parents study.
There is no judgement from teaching staff, only a desire to help these students reconnect with their studies in the most flexible and adaptive way possible. Appointments, childcare issues and sick kids are all accounted for and accepted.
Students undertake VCAL and complete a VET qualification, and also have access to experts in parenting, early childhood development, financial literacy, mental health, wellbeing, housing and legal issues.
The space also allows the parents to socialise with others in their situation, something that Rozi has relished.
“After giving birth I didn’t speak to any friends and I didn’t talk to family, I was at home with my child literally crying every day because I thought, ‘is this how my life will end up?’” she says.
“Here, I met new girls, amazing teachers and people that support around the classroom. I’m so much happier.”
The program has been running at Hallam since the beginning of the year, and at nearby Foundation Learning Centre in Narre Warren since 2018.
Eight young women are enrolled in the Hallam program, with staff expecting more as time goes on.
Some, like Rozi, found the school themselves while others hear about it through word of mouth or referral from services like Maternal Child and Health.
Project leader Mary Tresize-Brown said situating the YPEP program in a school helped give the young parents a community to be part of. The school’s leadership team has fully embraced it.
On Thursday 11 June, the class played host to Jo White, a presenter and TV personality who shared her own story of becoming a mum at age 17, and going on to follow her dream of becoming a social worker and then TV presenter.
“I want them to know it’s not the end of the world when you became a young parent,” she told Star News Group.
“You can achieve for you and your baby.”
Through sharing her story, Jo said she hoped to help raise awareness of young parenthood and reduce the stigma that young parents face.
“We should treat people like people no matter what’s happening in their life,” she said.
It’s a message that resonated with Rozi, who is excited to be close to finishing year 12.
“I’m going to get my year 12 pass, and that is my first step, to prove to people that I can finish school as a young mother,” the aspiring real estate agent said.
“My next step is to get a job, and then I will go from there and see what the future holds.
“I will do it, and I can do it. You’ll see me one day being successful!”