When Julian Gutierrez enrolled as a junior at New Futures School last year, he was the lone boy in a sea of pregnant girls and young mothers.
“The amount of girls and them not being used to guys, it was pretty wild at first,” Gutierrez said. “I would hear comments like, ‘This is a girls’ school.’ ”
But the place, one of the Albuquerque Public Schools’ “schools of choice,” suited him just fine. He and his girlfriend, Raven Lopez, had been attending Valley High School when they found themselves expecting. The pregnancy wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t something the young couple had been hoping for right then, but it was a happy surprise.
They knew their lives would take a dramatic turn, and they wanted to make sure they put themselves in the best position to become a successful family. That meant staying together and making sure their baby had two active parents and high-quality day care.
Gutierrez is an 18-year-old senior now with dreams of studying business and engineering in college. With braces and hair gel, he looks every bit a typical high school boy. But he’s put football and hanging out with friends behind him as he juggles schoolwork and taking care of 6-month-old Ari’Ana, the smiling daughter who spends her days in a nursery down the hall from his classrooms.
“Before she came, my life wasn’t as clear as it is now,” Gutierrez told me. “Now that I have her, I have something to work for. It’s taught me a lot, too. Like how to grow up. I’ve come a long way from how I used to be.”
New Mexico leads the nation in the percentage of teens who become pregnant – 93 of every 1,000 teen girls. New Futures was designed to give pregnant teens and students with children an APS education in a supportive environment that includes child care.
It has been almost exclusively a school for girls.
But in a trend that school principal Jinx Baskerville finds encouraging, more boys are enrolling and taking an active role in their children’s lives. Two other boys joined Gutierrez last year – one a middle school student – and a dozen boys are enrolled in New Futures this school year.
Jesus Alvidrez, a 19-year-old senior, considered quitting school last year so he could work more hours when his girlfriend, Iris Bustillos, became pregnant. He and Iris had hoped to have children someday, but not until after they graduated from high school. “It was just like a huge surprise when we found out,” he said.
Instead of dropping out, Alvidrez moved to New Futures with Bustillos so they could be together with new baby Isaac, who was born May 29. The arrangement allows both parents to move toward high school graduation while receiving child development education and ensuring Isaac gets high-quality child care.
Alvidrez puts in 36 hours a week as a grocery store checker and stocker after school and spends as much time as he can with Isaac, who lives with Bustillos and her family.
It turns out he loves everything about fatherhood. “Everything from like holding him and feeding him and even changing him,” Alvidrez said.
New Futures is uniquely set up for parents. A child development class that is an elective at other APS schools is a requirement here. And there’s no need to explain to classmates why you can’t hang out with them after school. When the day is over, a stream of young mothers and young couples heads to the parking lot carrying babies and leading toddlers by the hand.
Alex Hernandez, a 16-year-old freshman, transferred to New Futures when his pregnant girlfriend did. The young couple, who started dating in middle school, are expecting a baby boy in three months, and Hernandez wanted to be part of the process.
When I asked the guys how pregnancy and fatherhood had affected their teenage social lives, they all laughed and acknowledged that they all have new definitions of “fun,” which now include reading storybooks and getting bottles ready.
Some teenage boys walk away from pregnant girlfriends and fatherhood, but the guys at New Futures obviously take their role seriously.
“There’s a lot of bad reputations for guys,” Gutierrez said. “It’s better that we come here and show we’re actually involved. That we’re not going to run off. I don’t want to be seen in that kind of light. And I know if my daughter didn’t have me, it would impact her pretty strongly.”
Alvidrez agreed. “A kid needs both his parents.”
As Gutierrez and Alvidrez scooped their babies out of their cribs in the nursery to take them home, their faces lit up, and the trend of young fathers joining young mothers to complete their educations as a family couldn’t have looked any sweeter.
“I enjoy my daughter. I don’t regret anything,” Gutierrez told me.
“I don’t see my son as a mistake. I see him as a blessing,” Alvidrez said. “I would do it all over again.”