Samantha Braet was only 16 years old when she became pregnant.
Yet in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds, and a resounding consensus among her peers that becoming a teen mom would ruin her life, Braet chose to keep her baby.
Today, the 32-year-old is a university-educated, working mom raising three kids with a supportive husband, and showing a strength and confidence that she credits to her years at Louise Dean Centre for teen mothers.
“At Louise Dean I saw others my age, facing similar challenges and more importantly I saw them overcoming them — young women who were examples of perseverance, resilience, and determination,” Braet said.
“I saw my future in the young women who graduated. My life was changed through the support, care and compassion of the social workers who never judged and fought tooth and nail to help me overcome circumstances where I might have given up.
“Because of Louise Dean, I know I am resilient beyond measure. I know that I can do anything I set my mind to.”
But Braet is concerned that trustees with the Calgary Board of Education have agreed to begin the process to consider the closure of the school at its stand-alone site in Kensington to relocate it to Jack James, a regular high school in Forest Lawn.
The decision comes after vehement opposition from students and staff who participated in a survey and a virtual open house this spring, saying teen moms will be at risk by having to mix with regular students at Jack James.
Despite assurances from CBE officials that the program at Jack James will have child care, social supports and a separate entrance, a public engagement this spring highlighted that students and staff are also worried about violent crime in the surrounding community, fearing for their personal safety and their young children.
Forest Lawn has already seen several shootings so far this year, including one as recently as Aug. 21 at a restaurant along 17th Avenue S.E., in what police have called an alarming increase in gun violence across the city.
LDC alumni have also raised those concerns in a petition to “Save Louise Dean School,” which has gathered more than 3,000 signatures so far, including Catherine Landry, who says the program put her on the right path to a brighter future.
“I have now graduated, and am currently working on my BBA in accounting. I work a good job and have two healthy, happy kids,” she says on the petition site change.org/p/save-louise-dean-school
“This would not have been my life without this program. When walking through the front doors, I knew I was not alone, I was never judged, and always had support.”
Braet says because teen mothers are already in an extremely vulnerable position, often feeling stigmatized and traumatized, Louise Dean Centre at its original, stand-alone site in Kensington is the best place for them.
“It is truly a safe haven,” she says. “It is so far removed from other high schools, and all of the drama they can bring. You know that at Louise Dean, you are not being judged. You can focus on your education without any distractions.”
Braet said when she attended LDC in Kensington, school staff were also able to help her find a job in the community, as well as affordable housing nearby once she graduated.
Kensington, as a community, she said, rallies around the students. But she worries whether Forest Lawn will offer the same supports at Jack James.
CBE officials have argued that it’s becoming too expensive to run the program out of Kensington School, a 75-year-old building that needs $17 million in maintenance.
Trustees have said they want to hear from more stakeholders, but CBE is only offering one more virtual meeting, Nov. 1, to gather public input and will take written submissions until Nov. 22 before a final decision is made Nov. 29.
LDC alumni say the decision is being rushed, almost as if it has already been made, with little opportunity to provide public input.
CBE says a decision needs to be made quickly so construction can begin on the $5.6-million renovation already planned for LDC students at Jack James.
“This work will include dedicated learning spaces for the LDC program, additional child-minding space to accommodate the children of LDC students and partner office space,” said CBE spokesperson Joanne Anderson, estimating construction will take 18 months to allow for a September 2024 start that will also include personalized transition plans to support individual student needs.
Still, LDC students and alumni are also skeptical about the proposed child-care plan at Jack James, which would allow Jack James students to work at the day care for school credit, while being supervised by adult staff.
“We know Jack James is a trades school, so their focus is to give students trades education, which may not even work for many of the young moms who may want to go on to university,” Braet said.
“But it also means having Jack James students working at the day care for credit. And that will be very hard for young moms. It allows for the mixing of Jack James students with Louise Dean students, which is not supposed to happen.”