West Allis charter school with '100% completion rate' serves young people who are pregnant, parents

WEST ALLIS -- A charter school in West Allis operates a little differently than the typical high school. Every student at Shared Journeys is either pregnant or already a parent. Before the coronavirus pandemic began, FOX6 got a look inside the school, and talked with teachers and staff.

Mia Quinones

FOX6 caught up with seniors Mia Quinones and Emily Brown -- preparing for life after high school.

“I’m already enrolled in MATC,” said Quinones.

“I got accepted into MATC and Alverno,” said Brown.

While preparing for college, Quinones was also preparing for Liam. When FOX6 spoke with her, she was expecting her son in two weeks.

“I found out I was pregnant around June,” said Quinones.

Emily Brown

With that news, Quinones knew a traditional high school would be a challenge.

“I would have given up,” said Quinones. “I would have dropped out by now I think.”

However, she then found out about Shared Journeys -- a school designed for students in her situation.

Brown’s daughter turned 1 in January. While Brown attends class, her daughter plays downstairs at the free day care for students.

“There’s really no reason not to go to school now,” said Brown.

At Shared Journeys, breastfeeding positions are taught alongside English and math.

The woman behind it all is Lisa Colla.

“My role is dean, program facilitator, teacher, mom, custodian at times -- pretty much anything that I need to do,” said Colla.

Lisa Colla

Colla took over the program in 2010. and turned it into its own charter school in 2012. She has a record of success.

"We have a 100% senior completion rate, and what that means is once they're here and in our school, they are graduating,” said Colla.

Colla was recently awarded the Herb Kohl Principal Leadership Award -- recognizing her as one of the top principals in the state, and the award comes with a $6,000 grant.

It’s money the school needs.

“It’ll go directly to cover the costs of the funding that we’re losing,” said Colla.

Shared Journeys

Around 18% of Shared Journeys’ funding comes from the InSPIRE grant, a federal grant for teen parenting programs.  The grant was not re-authorized by Congress in the 2020 budget, meaning Shared Journeys is set to lose $50,000 next year.

"We're hopeful that our school district will help us with some of that funding to cover us for awhile” said Colla. “We're very aggressively seeking funding from local businesses, from other grant funding, applying to other grants."

Shared Journeys is one of eight schools across Wisconsin set to lose funding.  A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction called it a loss for Wisconsin.

Danielych Heben

Academic Tutor Danielych Heben knows firsthand the difference a school like this can make.

“I got pregnant at 14, and then had my daughter at 15,” said Heben.

Heben is not only the first in her family to go to college, she was also the first to graduate high school.

"Mrs. Colla really gave me hope. She just really proved to me that anything is possible,” said Heben.

For now, Colla is focused on the students and the babies -- hopeful people realize what can happen when this type of support doesn’t exist.

"We're not here to encourage teens to get pregnant. We're here to say if you get pregnant at a young age, you know what, sucks, because it does. None of us are really planning it, but we are hear for you. We're not going to give up on you,” said Heben.

Shared Journeys

Colla said her students have been adjusting well to online learning during the pandemic. They were already use to working online during maternity leave.

However, the students and staff miss seeing each other in person.