Young mums get a fresh start at school
JASMINE Youle is only 16 and yet she has faced more criticism than many people deal with in a lifetime.
Her gentle voice and soft face depict her age but her words are those of someone who has dealt with pressures most teenagers don't even know exist: "I was condemned and judged. I was scared," she said.
At just 14, Jasmine faced the crushing reality she was pregnant. She was given little choice but to leave her family home, drop out of school and adapt to her rapidly changing life.
A frightened and shy girl, Jasmine had to cope with society's backlash.
"I didn't have any confidence," she recalled. "I didn't leave the house. I didn't want to leave the house because I was so scared of judgment.'"
Jasmine relocated to Diddillibah to live with her partner and his parents. Together they are raising their almost two-year-old son Carter.
While it has not been without difficulty, Jasmine has found self-confidence and become an inspirational young woman, as a result of her decision to enrol in Burnside State High School's Supporting Teenagers with Education, Mothering and Mentoring program.
STEMM was the brainchild of teacher Jacqui Deane and is the only program in Queensland to support pregnant girls and young mothers in schooling, through a unique stand-alone curriculum that provides pathways to education.
Participants have the opportunity to study certificates in childcare and beauty and can also sit the Tertiary Preparation Pathway exam for access to university.
Jacqui said students also studied first aid, parenting and cooking skills and undertook relationship counselling during the two-year program.
She said it cost $140,000 to fund STEMM each year and this money was raised through grants and donations from Sunshine Coast organisations, such as the Nambour RSL Club.
"We could not do this without community support," Jacqui said.
"About 75% of our girls are in, or have been in, a domestic violence situation.
"Many of the girls come from dysfunctional families, drop out of school and become disengaged youth on the streets.
"They are searching for love and as a result, many make a conscious decision to have a baby to fulfil that need.
"Education can break the cycle. Our mantra is: by educating a mum, you are educating a family."
For Jasmine, it was not a conscious decision. In fact, she was six months pregnant before she realised her body was changing.
She credits STEMM with giving her and her son a positive future.
"Last year, I actually went back to Year 10 and completed maths and English within the classroom," Jasmine said.
"I felt accepted and I got good marks. I am now studying a Certificate 3 in childcare during the three days I attend STEMM.
"Then I will do my tertiary preparation exam and hopefully next year attend USC to study law. I always wanted to do law but I didn't think I was smart enough to do so.
"I'm 100% different now. I still doubt myself sometimes but I know I can do anything. I have to get a good job, so I can raise Carter the way I want to. Growing up, we didn't have much and I want a different upbringing for Carter."
Jasmine and her STEMM peers are gearing up to celebrate their success at the annual Christmas in July gala fundraiser, secured through a generous donation from the Nambour RSL Club.
It will be held on Saturday, July 27 at the Lake Kawana Community Centre and the Through the Looking Glass - Alice in Wonderland theme gala event will be open to all residents. It is hoped vital funds will be raised through ticket sales, raffles and a silent auction.
Nambour RSL Club general manager Suzanne Long said the program was benefiting 40 enrolled students, who travelled from as far as Brisbane and Ipswich.
"STEMM aims to empower pregnant girls and young mums through education and support. The program has achieved great things in its short history and our club is pleased to have the opportunity to ensure the vital program continues," Ms Long said.
"Nambour RSL Club is a proud supporter of many community and educational organisations. I believe that education is important to building equality and self-confidence in our younger generation."
Jasmine's eyes well up as she reflects on last year's event.
"It was really emotional that everyone was there to support us," she said. "Most people don't understand that we can be good parents."