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A dozen girls, some perched awkwardly with their pregnant bellies flush against the desks, were struggling over a high school geometry assignment on a recent afternoon.
No pencils, no textbooks, no Pythagorean theorem. Instead, they sewed quilts.
That is what passes for math in one of New York City’s four high schools for pregnant girls, this one in Harlem. “It ties into geometry,” said Patricia Martin, the principal. “They’re cutting shapes.”
Created in the 1960s, when pregnant girls were such pariahs that they were forced to leave school until their babies were born, the city school system’s four pregnancy schools — or P-schools, as they are obliquely referred to — have lived on, their population dwindling to just 323 students from 1,500 in the late 1960s.
They have been marked by abysmal test scores, poor attendance and inadequate facilities, and even some of their own administrators say they suspect that most of their students are pushed there by other schools because they are failing academically. In place of proms and computer labs, they have Mother’s Day parties and day care centers with cribs lining the walls.
Now in recognition of their failure, the city plans to shut them down at the end of the school year as part of a sweeping reorganization to be announced today of the alternative school district, which also includes an array of vocational, technical and dropout programs for students who have struggled in traditional settings.
“It’s a separate but unequal program,” acknowledges Cami Anderson, the superintendent whose district includes the Program for Pregnant Students, as it is formally called. “The girls get pushed out of their original high schools, they don’t come to class and they don’t gain ground in terms of credits.”
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