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‘Baby Steps to Giant Steps’ encourages continued education

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More than 70 high school students from 14 schools throughout the region attended “Baby Steps to Giant Steps,” a program of the Western Arkansas Education Service Cooperative (WAESC) that encourages pregnant students to graduate and pursue higher education.

Held Thursday, March 28, at Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus, the program featured guest speaker Melinda McClure, assistant bookkeeper at WAESC, who shared her personal story of being a teenage parent and the difficulties it can bring as a student.

“We all want a better life for our children,” she said. “Teenage pregnancy is a bump in the road, but don’t give up – you can succeed.”

McClure said discovering that she and her future husband, Rick, were expecting was the “day my life changed forever.” Having her daughter, Rachel, who is now a second grade teacher and mother, at such a young age left McClure battling feelings of disappointment, she said.

“I’m so thankful that, today, there are programs like this,” McClure said, adding that today’s society is “more accepting and encouraging for teenage mothers.”

Jane Phillips, WAESC career and technical education coordinator, said the No. 1 goal of Baby Steps to Giant Steps is to encourage students to graduate high school.

Chancellor Jo Alice Blondin said studies show that, on average, there is a correlation between obtaining higher education and earning more money during a lifetime.

“There are two things you need to take away from today: One, you will make more money over the course of your work life if you have a degree,” she said, “and two, financial aid, such as a Pell grant or the Academic Challenge Scholarship, is available to you.”

Students also were given a tour of Arkansas Tech-Ozark, as well as helpful items, such as diapers, from local vendors. High schools participating in the event included Alma, Booneville, Clarksville, Greenwood, Lamar, Mansfield, Magazine, Mulberry, Ozark, Paris, Pea Ridge, Scranton, Waldron and Westside.

Jessica Birchler, director of the Arkansas Tech-Ozark Career Pathways Initiative, said, “This annual program empowers young mothers to take proactive role in their future. Seeing all the wonderful opportunities on this campus, and through education in general, opens doors for these young women and their families.”

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Photo: WAESC Assistant Bookkeeper Melinda McClure speaks during “Baby Steps to Giant Steps,” a WAESC program held Thursday, March 28, that encourages pregnant high school students to graduate and pursue higher education.

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