Friday, May 30, 2003

Teen mom says middle school graduation won't be her last

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ryan Watson raised her hands triumphantly as she walked to the podium this week to receive her graduation certificate.As she did, family members hooted and hollered and her friends shouted "Go Ryan! Go Ryan!"

Ryan Watson (center) graduates from Bloom Middle School. The mother of 4-month-old Dominic Watson continued her education under the watchful eye of a close support network including her aunt Pauline Noble (right).
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
Many were the same people who questioned whether the 15-year-old single mother would ever make it to eighth-grade graduation at Lafayette Bloom Back on Track Accelerated Middle School in the West End.

Some still wonder whether she will make it through high school.

"She really pulled it out this year," Paulette Noble, Ryan's aunt, said during the ceremony Wednesday. "She's really been working extra hard because she's got this baby."

The last three years have been a struggle for Ryan, who now lives with her aunt in Westwood.

She failed sixth grade after she missed a lot of school to stay home to baby-sit her nieces and nephews. She also wasn't getting along with her mother and her schoolwork suffered.

To catch up, Ryan enrolled last school year in Bloom's accelerated program for students who have failed at least once. The program allows students to complete two years of coursework in one year or three years in two.

Soon, Ryan was on the path to graduate. That is, until her schooling fell off track again. In October, Ryan learned she was pregnant from her boyfriend of 10 months.

Ryan, a gregarious, outgoing student who was trying out for the cheerleading team, was about to experience the shake-up of a lifetime. And her mother wanted her out of the house.

Noble, Ryan's aunt, decided to take her in.

Ryan's teachers didn't know she was pregnant until five months into her term.

"I was floored," said science teacher Ruth Tucker. "But it explained a lot of things."

During the pregnancy, Tucker saw Ryan develop an attitude and begin slacking off.

Once they knew why, Tucker and other Bloom teachers rallied around Ryan, who often spent mornings before school studying in Tucker's science room.

Teachers arranged to give her a week's assignments in advance so she could finish her work even when she had to take days off at a time.

Three months before the Jan. 31 due date, she received another setback. Ryan's doctor told her she had to go on bed rest because her body wasn't generating enough fluid.

Even that didn't stop the school system from trying to keep her on track. A tutor came to Noble's apartment about four times a week.

After she had the baby on Jan. 30, Ryan had little more than a week's rest before the tutor was back. Baby Dominic slept in the bedroom while Ryan studied in the kitchen.

"It was a long time," Ryan said, giggling about the one-on-one tutoring sessions.

Since then, she's learned about more than geometry and biology. At first, Noble woke up when Dominic cried in the middle of the night, but she decided that was Ryan's job. Ryan also learned about the pains of labor, Caesarean sections and 4 a.m. feedings.

She achieved her goal - to graduate with her eighth-grade class. And she made it there with the best report card she's had since fourth grade - As and Bs.

To reward Ryan for meeting the required academic standards despite difficult odds, Principal Joe Porter on Tuesday named her the first-ever "Mrs. Lafayette Bloom."

"I was proud of myself," she said. "I was like, 'He did not just call my name.' "

The next day, Ryan was among 108 graduating Bloom students. Some wore flowered dresses, others wore suits with stiff dress shirts and alligator shoes. One student wore a tuxedo complete with a formal hat and cane.

Ryan is determined the graduation won't be her last. She's been accepted to the Aiken University High School in College Hill, and hopes to graduate, go to college and become a physical therapist.

"I want to be there for him and be able to take care of him," she said, pointing to 4-month-old Dominic.

Now, her family shares in the care of her son, but she'll be accepting more responsibility.

Next year, Ryan will be thinking about diaper changing and finding baby sitters while other freshmen are attending school dances and weekend parties.

Just 60 percent of Cincinnati Public School students make it to high school graduation. Many drop out in their freshman year.

But her aunt, teachers, friends and principal believe in her.

"Ryan tries really hard," Tucker said. "She said it's more important than ever for her to get an education.

"She's going to be all right."


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