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Riverview helps mom, daughter finish school

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By Stephen Thomas

SHEPHERDSVILLE - Educational opportunities have come full circle for a mother and daughter thanks to Riverview Alternative Center.

Erica Bright began classes at Riverview this fall. She plans on graduating within the year.

Erica first learned of the alternative school through her mother, Shelia Newton Vires, a former Riverview student.

In fact, Shelia was one of the inaugural members of Riverview’s Teenage Parenting Program (TAPP). She attended while Bright was still a baby.

The two appeared in a group photo with a story on “The Birth of TAPP” in The Pioneer News when Shelia was 16 and Erica eight months.

“Erica was the first person they had to install a seat belt for,” Shelia recalled.

When Shelia became pregnant at 15 she could not return to classes at her home school, Bullitt East. Her mother found out about TAPP.

“It’s a saving grace for teens,” said Shelia. “Having a new baby is harder than school. I learned a lot, how to be a mother, home economics. It opened my eyes to different things in life.”

Through TAPP Shelia experienced specialty parenting courses as well as Pilates exercise routines.

“As a young, single mom that was a big thing then,” she said.

Shelia credited TAPP with offering an opportunity for success in an otherwise difficult life situation.

“I don’t know where I would be, where we would be,” she said. “It got me through. I think of it a lot and I still use what I learned here.”

Shelia eventually married Erica’s father. They lived with his parents for a while but separated. Shelia and Erica moved back in with Shelia’s parents.

“I still live with my grandfather,” said Erica. “Both my grandparents were like another set of eyes. My mom was more like my sister.”

Erica attended Old Mill and Mount Washington Elementary prior to her tenure at Mount Washington Middle.

“In eighth grade I started to get a little out of control,” she said. “At Bullitt East I started skipping school.”

Erica scattered around through stints at Bullitt Central, Fairdale, and back to Bullitt East.

“I improved my grades at Bullitt East (the second time), but I felt pressure from my past,” she said. “They didn’t really think I had changed my ways.”

“There was also the pressure from my past,” Shelia added.

At first Erica only knew that Riverview allowed an opportunity to graduate early. She liked the idea of working at her own pace without any added pressures.

“I didn’t know you could come here without being pregnant,” she said. “You kind of teach yourself a learning way that’s good for you here. It’s not easy, but you can make it easier.”

“Erica chose to come here because she wanted the environment here,” said Riverview counselor Rick Dawson. “This is home, the other places just didn’t work out for them. Students see more success here, then they gain more confidence.”

On her first visit to the front office, Erica unintentionally shocked Riverview secretary Paula Foster.

“I knew who she was because she looked just like her mom,” said Foster. “The same smile, the same facial expressions. It can snap me back to 1994 so fast.”

“(Foster) told me I was the first girl enrolled here twice,” Erica laughed.

Dawson said the Riverview faculty took on a sort of “ownership” stance upon learning that Erica was a product of the TAPP program.

“I told her I know it feels like we’re pointing at her,” he said. “She grins and smiles and takes it in stride. She’s a product of us. Everyone has kind of adopted her.”

Completing coursework through Riverview, Erica could begin college-level courses through the Jefferson Community and Technical College Bullitt campus. She hopes to study finance and real estate, with interests in X-ray technology and cosmetology.

“I will get at least my degree as a back-up plan,” she said.

“(Erica) has a better head on her shoulders than I did at her age,” Shelia said. “She has a game plan.”

Mother and daughter attribute much of their success not only to Riverview’s educational programs but also the constant necessary support.

“If I were at Bullitt East I’d be in the same boat,” said Erica. “This school pushes me, but it’s friendly and supportive and keeps me in a positive mood. I now have expectations to graduate.”

“I think her being here helps,” said Shelia. “This school is not a last resort. She knew she could do better here. I know I did good here and that she would, too. Having people remember her here has been a great impact.”

The two remain very supportive of one another and respect each other’s life paths.

“Whatever I do wrong, she won’t judge me,” Erica said. “She forgives and I respect her for that. I had to grow up a little bit quicker than others. There’s more responsibility with one parent around. I matured a lot over the past year.”

“We’re very supportive of one another, and we’ve had to be,” said Shelia. “We’re very open with each other. And it started here.”

Foster said Erica is always interested in hearing old stories about Shelia’s Riverview days.

“It warms your heart to see a child who was here,” she said. “Obviously Shelia has raised a very nice daughter. I remember Shelia as a sweet kid. We have come full circle.”

Erica and Shelia maintain a quality mother/daughter relationship, albeit more like sisters on many occasions. Thanks in large part to Riverview and TAPP, they share a special and unique mutual respect.

“She’s been a really good mom even though she’s had some rough times,” said Erica, who is now older than Shelia was during her pregnancy. “Not in a bad way, but I want to do better than my mom did.”

“I love to hear that,” Shelia responded. “I want her to do better, too.”