When grade 11 student Brianne Cardinal mustered the courage to tell family and friends she was pregnant, they responded in ways she had not expected.

“I was never into drugs or alcohol,” she says. “I was not a bad person. I was just pregnant at 16.”

Now a proud mother to Sarah-Marie, her robust six-month old daughter, Brianne is mature for her now 17 years and confident as a young parent. The stigma of teen pregnancy, however, still hurts.

Brianne was scared but excited to be pregnant, yet not wanting to disappoint those she trusted most in her life.

“My dad was angry. My mom was worried. Some school friends dropped me. Some kids bullied me. I felt like I was being looked down on everywhere I went.”

Her saving grace was Artemis Place, a school designed to enable pregnant or parenting girls to care for their babies and themselves while completing their education. In operation since 1971, Artemis Place is funded, in part, by United Way.

Brianne is enrolled in their Young Parent Program which includes pre-natal education, parenting courses, life skills training, counselling services, as well as a self-paced curriculum. She is able to learn while having the peace of mind that her baby is tended to at the child care centre on site.

“There is no shame here,” says Brianne, who was quickly befriended by five other girls her age expecting babies within days of one another. “It’s a pretty good feeling to be welcomed like that, to feel completely accepted and understood.”

“Anxiety is debilitating for these girls,” says Rachel Calder, Executive Director of Artemis Place Society. Treating the whole person is part of their mission where a “holistic wrap-around model” is in place to support each girl through her transformation to motherhood and grade 12 completion.

“We create a sense of trust here so we can get to know our students and help normalize their experience given the amount of learning taking place in their lives.” Rachel talks about forging real relationships between students, teachers, counsellors, and families to bolster the girls’ sense of security and willingness to learn. “We help them articulate their feelings, deal with issues, and build confidence as they move forward with their lives.”

The only independent private school of its kind in Victoria, Artemis Society founders addressed a gap in the education system when it came to pregnant teens.

“The funding we receive from United Way allows us to maintain the staffing ratio needed to deliver our programming,” says Rachel, “which translates into our registering more girls in need, providing more time in class, and more hours of front-line services.”

If Brianne and Sarah-Marie are any indication, the Artemis formula works.

“Sarah-Marie and I have lots of support in our lives,” says Brianne. “My main goal now is to graduate and go to college.” Brianne is considering a career as a midwife or a school teacher.