Success Story: Coney Island Prep
Coney Island Prep, a charter school in Brooklyn, was founded in 2009 to prepare mostly low-income kids from southern Brooklyn (whom they refer to as “scholars”) for college and careers through character development, high academic standards, internships, and study-abroad opportunities. The progressive school tends to draw young teachers committed to teaching in an urban setting. In return, Coney Island Prep prides itself on being an institution that retains and nurtures teachers throughout their career. But within its first few years, the school’s administration recognized that they could do better—particularly when it came to supporting new mothers.
Breastfeeding mothers in education have unique challenges.
The majority of Coney Island Prep’s teachers and staff are women, which is common in the field of primary education. (Nationwide, almost 77% of all teachers are women). And while returning to work is always a challenge for breastfeeding mothers who need to pump throughout the day, it’s even harder for teachers. Classroom teachers lack schedule flexibility—they can’t interrupt an algebra lesson to go pump. Schools rarely have easy access to private spaces where they won’t be interrupted...by students. Classrooms are often shared by teachers (they’re hardly ever empty), and teachers’ lounges are crowded. So neither space really works for pumping. At Coney Island Prep, some breastfeeding teachers were pumping in an old book closet in one building, while teachers in another building were using an empty office.
Dignified lactation spaces communicate respect and inclusivity.
“We certainly didn’t have pleasant environments for new mothers to pump in,” says Jacob Mnookin, the school’s executive director. “And we definitely heard that feedback.” Mnookin was also concerned about the message their subpar lactation spaces communicated to their staff and students. A closet didn’t exactly align with the school’s mission to instill professionalism and respect throughout their community. And the makeshift spaces were not adequate for visiting guests who needed a private space to pump or nurse.
Lactation spaces should be convenient to mothers who need them.
To meet the needs of staff and visitors, the administration at Coney Island Prep realized that they needed a lactation space in each of their three buildings. Busy teachers could access them when and where they needed them; guests would have an option without running to another building. Given space constraints, they also needed a solution that was comfortable, private, and easy to move as needs changed. The school bought three freestanding Mamava pods and the response has been positive. "Knowing that we have a pumping suite right in our teacher workroom is so reassuring,” says Juliana Bryansmith, the principal of the elementary school and a mom who used the pods herself. “There are enough challenges being a new mother, so having one less thing to worry about in the midst of a busy workday is a relief.”
Highly visible lactation spaces help normalize breastfeeding.
“We want Coney Island Prep to be a place where our staff can start a family and continue to work for years to come,” says Mnookin. Perhaps most important of all, the school wanted to model for the next generation what it looks like to support working moms. “We want to show that being a mom and continuing to work is achievable. So providing a private space to pump is one small way we can demonstrate that value.”