Shirley Brown

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Shirley Brown used to sit in class worrying, knowing that her baby son was crying because he missed her.

Now 18, Brown had her son at 16, while she was a student at Samuel Fels High School. She tried to continue going to school after Amir was born, moving from relative to relative’s home for help in caring for him.

She tried putting him in daycare. When he cried all day long, she felt she had no choice but to leave school to take care of him.

Though Brown’s mother died when she was ten years old, and the baby’s father is not involved, her sisters and Amir’s paternal grandmother provide her with a strong support system.

Before she left to have her baby, Brown completed all of ninth and part of tenth grade at Fels. After Amir’s birth she moved in with a sister in North Philadelphia and started attending Benjamin Franklin High School

Neither the living arrangement with her sister nor Franklin worked out very well, so she moved in with the baby’s grandmother near Fels so she could reenroll there.

"I loved [Fels]. When I went to Franklin, I wanted to go back so bad," Brown said.

But Fels had relocated to a brand new building. And to Brown, it wasn’t the same. "It was like a lot of people was gone," she said. "Oh my God, the building is so nice, but…it is not the Fels I know"

It was not hard to leave when her son kept having problems at daycare.

She said it was a relief being home with him, "I know when I’m waking up that he’s safe because he’s with me and get to see him every day,"; she said. Still, she missed the school environment of having people around.

She was out of school for a year, searching for alternatives. She learned about Child Care Information Services (CCIS), which would pay a childcare provider of Brown’s choice to watch her son. Since the baby’s grandmother qualified, Brown was relieved to find an affordable way to have her son cared for by somebody he knew.

She currently lives with one of her five sisters, and has enrolled in Camelot Excel Academy South, an accelerated school. There she earns ten credits a year, rather than a traditional school’s seven credits.

I feel like everything worked out for the best," said Brown. "I think about it, when I’m here, I wouldn’t rather be nowhere else. I’m not trying to pipe it up or anything, but I really like where I’m at."

Once she graduates, she hopes to go to a trade school to learn computer engineering.

In ten years, she sees herself "doing good. Actually feeling proud. I don’t have to be doing the best, but as long as I can look back and see I came a long way."