It shouldn’t happen but it sometimes does: High school students become parents, classes in health education, parental admonitions, articles in popular journals notwithstanding.
Seniors in Watchung Hills Regional High School had a realistic taste of what it is like to care for an infant, and the lesson was accomplished in a very meaningful way.
For one full week, they had to take sole responsibility for a five-pound bag of flour. The bag, which approximated the weight and size of an infant, was initialed by their teacher, and it could never be left alone. The “flour baby” had to have a name, and had to be with its “parent” (or its godparent or baby-sitter) 24 hours around the clock.
Moreover, the “parent” had to keep a journal or log (signed by his or her own parent) and a baby book, both of which were to be handed in to their teacher.
Although the only requirement was to tightly enclose the flour bag in Saran Wrap and provide a blanket for the infant, most students dressed and decorated their make- believe child in an appropriate outfit. Handling the “baby” carelessly or neglecting it in any way was considered child abuse.
What did the teen-agers learn from this one-week project?
Matt Stanisci, of Green Brook, was a young “father” who really approached the flour baby project seriously to the extent that he bought a jaunty nautical outfit for his charge and took him out to eat.
“I treated him like a lot more than a flour sack,” he said. “I even asked the waitress for a chair for him at the restaurant." The waitress gave him strange looks, he added.
Stanisci partnered with Frank Urso, of Warren, when he couldn’t take care of his “little Warrior.” Frank didn’t mind, as he “really wants kids one day,” he said.
Tyler Reedman claimed to be an old hand at caring for a baby, as he had cared for his aunt’s child who is now seven months old. Reedman serves as a Green Brook firefighter, and when he is called out, he texts Alexis Coven, also of Green Brook, his partner, to take over.
Newcomer physical education/health teacher Sabrina Levy, who organized the whole flour baby project, said, “I’d seen this done in the senior health class at another school.” Outwardly simple (and there are some who might even call it silly), it’s a highly effective, yet simple way of personalizing a serious concern: that of teen-age parenthood.
Lecturing and cautioning teens have not been the most effective tools. Actually being responsible and also accountable for another life, even just an imaginary infant, for 24 hours a day, even for just a week, sends a clear and memorable message.