Many students find themselves struggling to keep up with their schoolwork while juggling a part-time job. Most students could not imagine juggling their schoolwork with a full-time job, much less a full-time job and a 2-year-old daughter, but that is the norm for senior Ashelynn Burt-Jones.
Burt-Jones gave birth to her daughter during her freshman year when she was 15 years old. Her daughter is now almost 3 years old, and Burt-Jones is a senior set to graduate with her class in June. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by the age of 22, as compared to the 90 percent of women who do not give birth in high school.
“Yeah, I think I do [defy stereotypes],” Burt-Jones said. “How? I don’t know. A lot of girls drop out of school or a lot of girls put the baby on their mother. None of those are things I’ve really done, like my mom doesn’t do anything for my daughter—I do everything. I go to work after school, and I’m full-time at work [at Waffle House].”
Burt-Jones does not plan on stopping at her high school diploma, and she intends on continuing to a higher education.
“My plans for school haven’t changed at all,” Burt-Jones said. “I’m still going to go to Georgia State University, but instead of me being able to live on campus, I’m going to get my first apartment with [my daughter], so that’s exciting. It hasn’t changed at all.”
When Burt-Jones first revealed her pregnancy to her family and peers, it attracted criticism from some.
“I didn’t face any criticism from my friends to my face, but I did from my family,” Burt-Jones said. “They believed that I was better than that, and I was about to go to the North Carolina School of Science and Math and that jeopardized that, so I just came here to Northwood. That was really the only criticism I got.”
However, Burt-Jones did not let this impact her negatively.
“I thought [the criticism] would affect me a lot more than it did, but it actually didn’t affect me,” Burt-Jones said. “It actually motivated me much more than it affected me. I’ve taken about 12 honors classes since freshman year and three AP classes. I’ve been able to study and take care of her. I actually make her study her ABCs and stuff like that.”
Although a typical day for Burt-Jones is likely different than a typical day for most students, starting with taking her daughter to daycare before heading to school and ending with putting her to bed and doing homework until well past midnight, Burt-Jones does not want to be treated differently than other students.
“When I was first pregnant with her, a lot of teachers told me I was able to eat in class but other students weren’t and other stuff like that… but I didn’t want me being pregnant or me having a daughter to change [things],” Burt-Jones said. “I didn’t want to be the outcast in class, so I always did what the other students did. If I was hungry, I would wait until after class while I was pregnant with her. Even now when they’re like, ‘Oh, you can turn it in Monday,’ I’m like, ‘No, I’ll make sure I have it in on the due date,’ because I don’t think that’s fair.”
According to the CDC, in 2015, 229,715 babies were born to women aged 15–19 years, for a birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 women in this age group. Although this is 8 percent lower than 2014, the United States still has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy of western industrialized nations.
As for Burt-Jones, she believes the only way to handle a situation like her own is to take responsibility.
“Don’t give up, and don’t make excuses,” Burt-Jones said. “I do this by myself. Her dad is definitely active in her life 100 percent, but as far as my parents, they don’t really do anything for her, so I don’t think an excuse should ever be an option, like ‘Well, I didn’t finish high school because I had a daughter and I didn’t have anyone to take care of her.’ I mean, there are so many resources out there for girls. You just have to talk to people. Really letting people know what’s going on is the best thing I’ve learned.”
– By Chloe Maynard