For student moms, a friend and a voice Gwen Bittner / Citrus Chronicle

Teen parenting teacher Kathy Eckstein has committed her career to assisting teenage mothers in the Citrus County School District.

In her 20 years of service, Eckstein has helped build the teen parenting program from onsite one-to-one counseling to a full nursery at Crystal River High School, benefiting an average of 30 to 40 students a year.

“When I started out I would go around to each of the girls at the high schools,” Eckstein said. “Twelve years ago we opened an onsite nursery at (Withlacoochee Technical College) and we were there up until three years ago when we moved here to Crystal River High School.”

When students find out they’re pregnant, guidance counselors point them in Eckstein’s direction.

“Usually we get them in right away,” Eckstein said. “It just depends on what their schedule looks like.”

Her program covers transportation, child care, and parenting classes for pregnant teens and young mothers throughout the county.

“So often they don’t have transportation,” Eckstein said. “We’ll send a bus to her house to pick her up and take her home in the afternoon. There’s really no excuse for them to drop out.”

Eckstein has students in the nursery for one block a day. There they bond with babies and learn the basics of caring for a newborn. While attending their other classes the babies stay in the nursery with Eckstein and two full-time aides. When they’re in the teen parenting program, they practice everyday skills in parenting, from pregnancy to graduation.

“They learn about health and safety while they’re here,” Eckstein said. “They understand the importance of sanitizing, safety features, keeping the newborns and babies away from the toddlers.”

Eckstein even brings in members of parenting-focused community programs like Healthy Families, Healthy Start, Teen MOPS, and Kids Central to interact with the students.

“I bring in a lot of community agencies here on campus to talk to the girls,” Eckstein said. “Healthy Start is probably here at least every other week meeting with the girls and they’ll usually do an activity.”

She has found her efforts mold students into more confident and motivated young parents. Eckstein didn’t always see herself as a teen parenting teacher, but she has found it’s a role she was meant for.

“I actually wanted to go into social work,” Eckstein said. “I like working with the girls one on one and seeing what their goals are and how I can help them reach those goals; at least graduate from high school. If they’re stressed out about what’s happening at home I can talk to them one on one. I get to provide social work services to the girls and hook them up with great resources. I like making those connections. There’s a little bit of counseling involved. It’s more than just a job as a teacher.”

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