Like Corey, 16-year-old Dominique Holloman has a mother and teachers who care about her. Unlike those in Corey’s life, the adults in Dominique’s have a difficult time bridging the gulf between home and school.
Recently, miscommunication with the teachers and staff of Audenried High School has left her under the gun to pass 9th grade.
Dominique, who started the school year pregnant, went on bed rest at the end of February. Her teachers, following procedure, collected her work and sent it to the main office. They expected Dominique’s mother, Linda Anderson, to pick it up.
Dominique, however, thought that Roster Chair Victoria Monacelli, with whom she had developed a close relationship, would deliver the work to her home.
Nothing happened for two months while Dominique sat at home, bored.
Then, on May 1, Dominique had her baby – a girl she named Destiny.
Nine days later, Dominique and her mother celebrated Mother’s Day with the baby.
Anderson gazed constantly at her tiny granddaughter. “My kids were my kids,” said the 37-year-old mother of four. “But this one” – Destiny – “is really mine.”
Dominique has turned to her mom for advice on everything from labor pains to feeding, and Anderson often takes care of Destiny while her daughter recuperates.
“I feel very happy knowing I’m so supported,” glows the proud teenager.
Though Dominique’s connection to Audenried has frayed, her bond with her mother has deepened.
“I don’t treat her like my mom,” she says. “I treat her like my sister.”
Their relationship intensified following the 2002 death of Dominique’s grandmother, Mary Anderson.
“My mother was our backbone,” said Anderson. “She was always the first one up in the morning, getting the kids to school.”
When Mary Anderson died, the family fell into disarray. “I still haven’t gotten over it,” Anderson said quietly. “When she died, I just wanted to block out the world.”
In many ways, she succeeded in doing just that. The push from home for Dominique to stay engaged in school eroded over time.
Dominique’s teachers have been ill-equipped to make up the difference.
“I don’t want to get into other people’s business,” said Dolores Daniels, Dominique’s 6th grade teacher at Walter G. Smith Elementary. “Dominique could have been a higher achiever. But I do not think there was a great demand on Dominique from home to do better.”
Dominique regularly attended Smith, only a few blocks from her home.
That was not the case for her 7th and 8th grade years at William Peirce Middle School. “I missed a lot of days,” she says. “I would get real sick, and my mom would let me stay home.”
During Dominique’s two years, Peirce was beset by poor academics, dwindling enrollment, and high teacher turnover. It closed for good after her 8th-grade year.
Subsequently, fearing the climate at South Philadelphia High and failing to find an alternative, Anderson allowed her daughter to miss an entire year of school before enrolling her in September at the newly reopened Audenried.
Though readjusting to school and dealing with her pregnancy, Dominique managed decent grades.
“Dominique was a great student while she was there,” said physical science teacher Kate Herts. “She would always do her work, ask questions when she was confused – everything a teacher would want a student to do.”
But as her pregnancy progressed, her attendance slipped again. A worried Anderson frequently took Dominique home after lunch. Then came the bed rest and the confusion over the missed work.
“Ms. Monacelli said ‘I got you,’” said a frustrated Dominique. “She said she was going to drop it off, but she never came.”
Equally frustrated, Monacelli tried to contact Dominique but lacked the time to navigate the maze of changing cell phone numbers and family tiffs that made reaching her student an ordeal.
“I’m not going to chase her,” Monacelli explained. “I have 170 other kids to worry about.”
Audenried is better positioned than most neighborhood schools to help keep students like Dominique connected.
With only 9th graders, support staff have manageable caseloads. The school has a detailed procedure for situations like Dominique’s, and the principal has brought in community partners. Dominique’s teachers clearly like her, see her potential, and want to support her.
Yet because of the lost months, it’s uncertain whether Dominique will complete 9th grade.
While Anderson watches Destiny, the tired new mother tries to plow through her missed lessons.
"I do what I can," she said, a touch wearily. "But I need help."