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Once upon a whirl

Twice a week, Alma Villa, 18, and her son Ulysses, 3, get off the bus at the Front Street station and walk to the Medford library, where Ulysses is allowed to check out three books.

And every night before bed, Alma reads her son a book. His favorites are those with Elmo.

“I like reading to my son,” said Alma, a senior at North Medford High School. “My mom, she was working all the time and didn’t have time to go to the library to get books and read to us.”

It wasn’t until Alma was in high school and could speak English more fluently that she developed an appreciation for literature (especially crime and mystery novels), which she now wants to pass on to her son.

Starting next week, children’s literature will be a little more accessible for Alma and the other 20 teen parents attending NMHS.

The high school created a children’s section in its library and will begin offering a Little Whirls storytime once or twice a week to infant, toddler and preschool children enrolled in the Child Development Center on campus.

“A lot of our teen parents really have not been raised in a literacy-friendly environment,” said Tricia Prendergast, a member of the Medford School Board, president of the Teen Parent Advisory Council and executive director of the Magdalene Home, a nonprofit home for teen mothers and their babies.”They haven’t been read to. There haven’t been a lot of books in their homes. They haven’t been encouraged to read on their own, and their only exposure to books is in school in textbooks, which is pretty boring. What we’re trying to do is break that cycle.”

Teen parents are invited to join their children in the library for the storytimes, hosted by the school’s media specialist, Kelly Larson, and check out books to take home to read to their children.

“As their comfort level rises, the plan is to let them take over part of the storytime,” Larson said.

NMHS’s Teen Parent Program is the only one in Jackson County and currently serves 21 students at North, four students at South Medford High School and nine students at Central Medford High School. The program provides support to teen parents through parenting classes, prenatal care, transportation with car seats to and from school, free child care in the CDC and access to other resources.

Five of the 34 teen parents in the program are pregnant and, if they aren’t already attending North, will most likely transfer there after their baby is born to access the Child Development Center, explained Michelle Stone, who coordinates the program.

The Child Development Center currently serves 43 children between the ages of 2 months and 5 years. Of those children, 10 have parents attending the school. The rest are the children of community residents who pay a fee for the child care service.

Stone said the Little Whirls program is just one of the ways the Child Development Center utilizes campus resources to provide enrichment opportunities for kids.

“If a young parent knows that their child is being well cared for during the school day, then they are able to concentrate more on their own school work and, hopefully, be more successful,” said Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate, adding that the additional funding the district gets from the state for teen parents helps to offset the costs of the additional staffing and programming.

The Little Whirls program kicks off Tuesday.

Larson said the school is accepting donations of board books and picture books in its front office.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Alma Villa, 18, reads Thursday to her son Ulysses Villa, 3, at North Medford High School. The school is working to create a children's library for its teen parent program. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch