Staff Spotlight: Jazmen Miller, Student Support Center

Jazmen MillerJazmen Miller works for the Student Support Center but is on site at IDEA every day serving as the New Heights coordinator, thanks to a federal grant designed to support pregnant and parenting teens in school.

Why This Work Matters

The New Heights program is unique because it is one of the only school-based support programs for teen parents in the District.  We know that some students drop out when they have children due to lack of support and the overall responsibilities that come along with being a parent.  We work with mothers and fathers to improve attendance, put them on track for graduation, reduce repeat pregnancies, and help students access the resources they need to take care of their children.  This program opens doors and allows students to see that there is still an opportunity for them to be successful.

How We Help

The New Heights program provides participants with case management, workshops, advocacy, and incentives.

Focusing on Academic Success

My goal is to eliminate any barriers to academic success for our participants by helping them access school- and community-based resources such as tutoring, mental health counseling, and mentoring.

Focusing on Parenting Success

We provide New Heights students with several life skills workshops including health and nutrition, parenting, healthy relationships, family planning, future planning, and job readiness.  Students earn incentive points, called baby bucks, to purchase items for their child by participating in the program and as rewards for their performance in the classroom.  They also receive direct access to many government subsidies and resources such as housing, daycare vouchers, health insurance, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Parenting Teens By the Numbers

This is our second year at IDEA. Right now I’m working with six students, which is only about half the number of students I served last year. This number is still pretty low in comparison to other schools in the District.

My Path to Working with Teen Parents

I started out in public relations. My undergrad degree is in journalism and mass communications. I moved to DC during my senior year in college to work for a civil rights public relations firm, and one of my first clients was the Ophelia Egypt Center at Planned Parenthood. First I was promoting their work with adjudicated youth and it didn’t take long for me to see what they were doing to empower teens to make different choices. I started volunteering with them and I found working with youth was more fulfilling than PR.  Soon after, I was hired by the Student Support Center as its communications coordinator.  In addition to my duties, I was given several opportunities to work with youth.  As my skills grew, my opportunities increased until I was promoted to a prevention educator, where I would go to different schools to provide social and emotional support to students.

Since then I’ve started a master’s in school counseling at George Washington University and I’ve recently applied to the Masters of Social Work program at George Mason University.

Why The Program Works

New Heights operates from an empowerment perspective in which we strive to equip our students with the skills and knowledge to advocate for themselves and their children. The program allows students to connect with each other and realize they’re not in this alone.  It gives them the tools they need to not only be a good parent but a successful student.

They’re learning that having this baby is a great responsibility and they need their education to support themselves and their baby.

Surprising Challenges

I never thought homelessness would be a big issue but it’s huge. Some parents have a difficult time dealing with fact that their child is having a child and sometimes this leaves our students without a home.

Another challenge I continue to work to overcome is the lack of community-based support for teen fathers.  Most programs are geared towards supporting the mom, therefore I always struggle to find the fathers resources such as support groups and housing.

I’ve learned that we can’t help them be prepared for parenthood until we help them deal with all the other issues they walk in the door with. We’re helping them get to a place where they’re stable and feel supported.

Teen Fatherhood

I was raised by a single mom.  I know we struggled a lot financially and having my father around probably would have made life so much easier for my mom.  However, I know the love, support, and guidance that my father didn’t provide could not be purchased.  This is the message I give the dads enrolled in my program.  Although society tells them their role is to provide financial support, I want them to know that it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes emotional support is even more important and makes a much more lasting impact. Because I do understand and appreciate their desire to take care of their children financially, I am available to help them find and apply for jobs.

We also trying to help them understand the importance of creating a healthy relationship with the mom of their child even if they’re not in a romantic relationship.

Team Effort

Some of the obstacles our students face seem almost impossible to overcome, but they’re still doing it. They still have bright futures. If we support these students they can still be successful. We can’t count them out because they have children. Once we count them out we’ve pretty much counted their children out. The staff at IDEA has done an outstanding job of helping these students to succeed. I work with all the teachers at IDEA to make sure we’re supporting the students as a whole. I couldn’t do it by myself.

The New Heights Program, now in its third and final year, was awarded to the Department of Human Services in 2010 by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Adolescent Health.  The Student Support Center works with DHS to manage the New Heights program in two charter schools.  In addition, SSC has a partnership with Child and Family Services Agency to serve pregnant and parenting youth in foster care. The Student Support Center, along with DHS and DPCS, are in the process of applying for new funding to not only continue but expand the work of the New Heights program.