"Congratulations! You’re a teen parent!" 

These are the words that several Norfolk Collegiate students heard on Monday when they were introduced to their first child as part of their family life class. Art teacher Cathy Wright and Norfolk Collegiate’s Art Club teamed up with Loli Marshall, who teaches family life, and School Nurse Susie Potter to create fabric dolls for ninth-grade students to care for as part of their family life project on teen pregnancy. 

In the past, students have been required to care for a bag of flour for a week as a way to get insight into the amount of work and money that goes into caring for a baby. This year, students are caring for a doll instead. 

A little inspiration

It all began when Nurse Potter took over the family life classes several years ago. As a way to illustrate how much work raising a baby was, she assigned each of her students the task of caring for a bag of flour for the week. The goal was to have the students feed, change and cloth the baby, as well as take it everywhere and do a cost-analysis on what it would cost to care for a baby.

However, the flour bags often tore or leaked and left a mess. So, she found an alternative online of homemade dolls filled with rock salt. 

That’s when the Art Club got involved. Potter consulted with Wright, the Art Club’s adviser. The club decided to take on the task of making the dolls for the class.

“I’m really glad to see it come to fruition,” said Potter. “It’s a great way to show our students a more realistic outlook on teen pregnancy.”

Fabric, kitty litter and go
It took the Art Club about one month to make 20 dolls during the students’ free time, study halls and club time. Each doll had to be constructed by hand by the students, who cut the template out of fabric. Then Wright and junior Carla Leanzo sewed the pieces together. The Art Club then filled them with polyfill and bags of kitty litter to make them varying weights and sizes. 

“We made 20 dolls ranging in size from a preemie to a big boy at 10 pounds. We even had two pairs of twins,” said Meredith Perrine, a member of the Art Club. “I remember when we had our flour babies and it was a total mess. Hopefully, these will last a lot longer.” 

The Art Club funded the project through profits made at its Fall Fair face-painting booths. “We’re trying to be more proactive and do projects inside and outside of school,” said Art Club president and senior Maddy Reed.

Small package, big impact
Even though the babies are small, their impact on the students was apparent after only a few days.  

“Hopefully, it’s something that leaves an impact and show people that Art Club does more than just play with paints,” Maddy said of the project. “There were a lot of people who made this project happen and I’m really, really proud of them.”

Freshman Sarah Beck was surprised at how much harder it was to care for the baby than she expected. “I was surprised with it all. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be,” she said. "You have to carry it everywhere. The other day I went to the mall and I had to take it with me. I had my mom hold it when I went into the store because it would have been embarrassing to bring it with me.”

Even though they don’t look like real babies, “they are more realistic than carrying around a sack of flour,” she continued. “It makes you care for it.”

As part of the project, the students are required to care for their babies for seven nights, as well as keep a baby log of their interactions with their baby and arrange for a babysitter, if needed.

“The idea of teenage pregnancy is almost comical to our students. The media sensationalizes it and most of us don’t talk about it,” said Marshall. “Cathy Wright and I wanted to try to make it more realistic than flour or egg babies and this seemed to have worked. Though fun for a day, the kids are finding that they cannot just leave their babies, so it is starting to impact them.”