‘Sugar Babies’ bring the challenges of parenting to life

You might not expect it, but there is a row of birth announcements with prose and pictures of the “babies” hanging just outside of Ilona Abrahams classroom at Goessel Elementary School.

A couple of the babies have no head, one has no head, arms or legs, one has a pumpkin head. They are all very different.

They are part of the “Sugar Baby Project.”

“This is the third year we have done this,” said Abrahams, a reading and language arts teacher. “Each year I just keeping adding a little more and a little more.”

This year the students began the project by reading a book, “Sixth Grade Sugarbabies” which is the story of two girls assigned the task of watching a four-pound bag of sugar as their “baby” for an entire week.

Goessel students were then asked to bring their own four pounds of sugar. They spent the first week decorating the “baby.”

Students were issued a check ledger with a beginning balance of $200 to be used for the benefit of their new baby.

“This is the first year I have done this,” Abrahams said. “It was very interesting to watch what happened. They were pretty careful to watch how they spent their money-until after payday, then they spent it.”

The baby was to be with the student wherever the student went for the whole week, during and after school. During recess Abrahams would baby-sit-for a moderate fee. Physical Education class became day care and a fee was charged.

“We did this over Halloween, and all of the students wanted their parents to baby-sit for them. I encouraged parents to charge for baby-sitting, and most of them did.”

As part of the study, students were asked to keep a journal about their parenting experiences.

“I was trying to help them see choices that needed to be made, and to see something of what early parenthood would be like,” Abrahams said.

“They had to think what kind of job they would want, and what kind of income would be required to support a family.”

Each morning students picked a “life chance” card, which might say it was time to buy diapers for their baby, or the baby needed to go to the doctor, or other real-life events. The student was expected to follow the card and pay for whatever expense was incurred.

Wednesday was payday. Students drew a “payday” card which had various types of occupations and professions with varying amounts for their paychecks.

If students had run out of funds to care for the baby, Abrahams said they would have had to apply for a loan. But students managed their money carefully and no one went broke.

Abrahams said each morning the class took time to discuss issues brought up by being “parents.”

“We had some good talks,” she said. “Some of them said people stared at them when they went out to eat-and these are things that can happen to young parents.”

At the beginning, Abrahams said students asked if they could do the project for two weeks.

“I told them after a week ‘you’ll be sick and tired of it,’ which is what happened-and exactly what I wanted to happen.”

She said most students were glad it was over after the week. They didn’t like the responsibility of having to take their baby everywhere they went, and didn’t care to pay for a baby-sitter.

“They didn’t always like the choices they had to make,” she said. “I wanted them to see these things. I wanted them to have some idea of the responsibility of being a parent and the choices you have to make.”

Another issue brought up this year was child abuse and kidnapping.

During recess the “babies” were lined up while students were on the swings. Another teacher walked by and reached down and took one to give back to Abrahams later.

“We learned how easy it is to leave a baby ‘just for a minute’ and what can happen,” she said.

Another time a student was casually poking the “baby” with a pencil. This generated a discussion on the meaning of abuse.

“It’s a good project,” Abrahams said. “I think the students enjoy it and learn from it.”

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