Opening Detroit’s Educational Doors to Help Teen Mothers Dream Bigclose
While many pregnant teens and young mothers aspire to continue their education and achieve big dreams, they are often faced with challenges that impede these goals, such as a lack of access to daycare and a dearth of community support. Moved by these issues facing young girls in Detroit, Asenath Andrews founded the Catherine Ferguson Academy over 25 years ago. A revolutionary experiment in education – named after a famous freed slave who was passionate about education despite being illiterate herself – the school helps young women with children complete their secondary schooling and create futures with far fewer limitations for themselves and their children.
Andrews was recently honored at the 2012 Women in the World summit, co-sponsored by Toyota and hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast Editor-In-Chief Tina Brown. Toyota awarded the Principal one of three $50,000 grants donated to women chosen as “Mothers of Invention” for the creativity, drive, and determination they’ve demonstrated in addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Every year, more than 4,000 teen girls in Detroit get pregnant, and most of them don’t graduate from high school. “If you come to our school, we expect you to not just sit there, but to do your best,” said Andrews. “You create a future for yourself. Nobody can hold you back except for you.” Dolling out tough love, Andrews over the years has been something of a surrogate mother to thousands of teen moms in Detroit. “Everything,” student Ashley Rodgers stated simply when asked to choose one word to describe the Academy, “…because Catherine Ferguson meant everything to me.”
At the Academy, mothers are able to drop their children off at an on-site nursery and attend class, where Andrews oversees a rigorous and sometimes unorthodox curriculum to rebuild self-esteem, convince students to see beyond self-imposed boundaries, and teach young mothers the value of educating themselves and instilling a love of learning in their children.
In order for Catherine Ferguson students to earn their degrees, they must put into action the philosophy of the Academy. For example, students run the Academy’s full-fledged working farm and sell the produce it generates. This group of young mothers also must move on to higher education in order to graduate, which is doubly impressive given that many of these young women are the first in their families to attend college. Even with the rigorous curriculum and requirements, the Academy maintains a 90 percent graduation rate.
Equally important to Andrews is instilling in her students a global perspective. The Catherine Ferguson Academy offers many students the first opportunity to leave their neighborhood’s 50-mile radius by sending groups of students abroad. “My son will never be a neighborhood boy; he will be a boy of the world because his mother has gone outside of the United States, so his life is now a life of international perspective,” explained one student after the group’s inaugural trip to South Africa.
“When you leave here today, you should be smarter than you were when you got here,” said Principal Andrews, summing up the Academy’s credo, “because smart is what you get, not what you are.”