Students throughout Catawba County high schools aren’t just learning about history, math and science anymore. In addition to algebra problems and chemistry experiments, students also have the option of learning how to be parents.
Parenting and Child Development is offered at every Catawba County high school. Part of the Career and Technical Education program, Parenting and Child Development gives students the opportunity to learn the basic theories of child development, as well as effective parenting techniques.
Maiden High School teacher Kelly Shehan said that the course emphasizes the idea of being a prepared parent.
“(The class) talks about parenting readiness,” Shehan said. “You look at, “Do you even want to be a parent?”; things that you should think about financially, long-term goals about when and where to have children.”
The course doesn’t stop with a discussion on whether or not students desire or intend to be come parents.
“Once we discuss (the idea of having a child), we move into prenatal development, and we go through the different stages,” Shehan said. “Then we talk about birth and then it breaks it down into the different years (of child development).”
Parenting and Child Development doesn’t rely on textbooks and power point presentations to bring the curriculum to life. Shehan also said that one part of the student’s grade involves taking home a realistic, computerized baby that gives students a weekend to experience what it’s like to take care of a baby and put the knowledge they’ve gained in the course to use.
“There are different ethnicities in the babies,” said Catawba County Schools Career and Technical Education Director Karen Cale. “We tried to get a wide variety of those so (the students) feel like the baby is something that could be theirs.”
In addition to getting the baby, students are given a bottle and diapers that are electronically equipped to “respond” to the baby.
Students are also provided with a diaper bag and carrier for the baby.
Students are given one minute to try and figure out why the baby is crying. They can use a bottle, change a diaper and try to burp the baby or rock the baby. After a minute passes, points begin to deduct from their grade for neglect. If the baby is neglected for too long, the baby will enter “abuse shutdown” and will stop working.
Shehan said that instead of programming each baby to be difficult or easy, she sets each baby to “random.” Some students may have a baby that is colicky, while others might have a baby that is easier to calm down, Shehan said.
“(The students) come back and you can tell they’re exhausted,” Shehan said.
With a computer program, Shehan can view the data for how well the baby was taken care of by each student.
While students find this project to be long and tiring, Catawba County sees it as an investment worth their time and money.
Catawba County Schools currently has 35 electronic babies distributed among Bunker Hill High School, Maiden High School and St. Stephens High School, with a total investment of about $30,000, Cale said.
While not every high school has requested this technology, Cale said that the learning tools add a relevancy piece to the Parenting and Child Development class.
In addition to taking home a life-like baby for a weekend, students in Parenting and Child Development complete other projects and tasks, such as creating a photo story on birth defects, wearing an empathy belly to lunch and comparing baby foods, Shehan said.
Students in Newton-Conover City Schools also have the option of taking the Parenting and Child Development class. The curriculum used in CCS and NCCS is created on a state level and is designed to be the same for any high school Parenting and Child Development class in North Carolina.
At Newton-Conover High School there are “babies” for students to take home; however, after being purchased about 15 years ago, they are used differently than schools with newer technology. NCHS Family and Consumer Science teacher Angela Lowdermilk said that she thinks it’s a disadvantage to the students to not have the newer technology, but they are still incorporated into her class.
“I think that for (our class), one of the things that the babies do is that it gives them a reality of carrying something and having it with you,” Lowdermilk said. “They do realize the gravity of the situation when you have a child and have to take it everywhere. (The babies) are the weight of an average size of a child when it’s born.”