Georgia first lady Sandra Deal spent a few minutes Thursday watching a 4-month-old baby trying to kick an oatmeal container.
The exercise was meant to build the baby’s muscles and motor skills — and teach its teen mother the stages of her child’s development.
“It’s amazing, because these ladies don’t realize what their babies can do,” said Lorie Eaker, who visits the homes of 39 Catoosa County teen mothers and fathers to help them raise babies into well-developed kids.
State grant money funds Eaker’s position, and Deal dropped by the Performance Learning Center alternative high school in Fort Oglethorpe to see the program in action.
Eaker’s full-time job as a Parents As Teachers educator is funded by the CHaSYN program, which stands for Creating Health and Strong Youth Now. It’s funded by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, which Deal chairs. The Ringgold-based nonprofit North Georgia Health Care Center was awarded a state grant of $250,000 a year for three years.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Eaker’s home visitation program is partly designed to ready young parents for annoying aspects of children’s development — such as tantrums at age 2 — so the teens don’t overreact.
“When it happens, they’re ready for it and they don’t get frustrated and they don’t get upset,” Eaker said.
During her tour of the school, Deal also watched a teen mother go through the center’s informal graduation ceremony.
Clapping students lined the hallway as high school senior Hope Styles walked by, carrying her 5-month-old son Noah and holding the hand of her 2-year-old son Bryson.
“Get the drums going!” Principal Lamar Brown shouted to two student drummers who helped whip up the crowd.
The ceremony culminated with Styles ringing a bell in the school’s hallway and signing her name to the bell post.
“This should be a great inspiration to you,” the principal told Styles’ classmates. “Hope Styles did not give up. She kept pushing and she finished.”
The first lady grabbed Styles’ elbow and told her, “You did a good job.”
Other nontraditional students who shared their stories with the first lady included Haden Shaffer, a previously homeschooled transfer student from Pennsylvania who caught up on 10 credits he lost when he moved to Georgia.
Hayley Womble, a 19-year-old getting her degree, praised the stress-management classes funded by the state grant.
“One thing about our students, they’re not here because they’re in trouble,” Brown said. “They’re here because they want to graduate.”
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.