How Christopher House Supports Teen Moms Through Childbirth and Helps Them Re-establish Their Lives After

By: Danielle Castonzo

Imagine you’re fifteen years old and four months pregnant. You’re going to the doctor, but you still feel lost and unsure of what to expect. You feel unsupported at home and at school and overwhelmed by the contradictory information online. You’re trying to graduate high school, stay healthy, and get ready to support a newborn – but you feel hopeless.

All you want is a reliable, safe support system to help you achieve your goal: birthing and raising a healthy child.

Christopher House’s Teen and Adult Pregnant and Parenting Services (TAPPS) is that support system for teen mothers in Chicago. TAPPS connects low-income teens and young mothers—up to age 21—with doulas and parent educators who provide emotional, physical, and educational support before, during, and after childbirth—and it’s completely free.

Michael Gouterman, Associate Director of TAPPS, oversees the doulas and parent educators and advocates on behalf of the women and families served. Michael has been with Christopher House for over six years; he started as a social worker at the Uptown campus. While he loved his work as a social worker, he was inspired to explore the impact he could have when working with families right at birth, connecting them to resources and developing healthy habits from the beginning.  

Michael spoke to us about the importance of working with families from birth: “Even at ages three or four, behaviors and habits are so entrenched already. In that first month, that first year, you can have such a big impact, just sitting down and working through a child’s development with a parent and discussing ways to improve your family’s wellbeing.” 

TAPPS begins before birth to set new moms and their babies up for success. New moms are paired with a doula—a professional trained in childbirth who prepares new mothers for labor. Doulas visit new moms every week to teach them about their changing bodies, address the realities of parenting, and explain what delivery will be like. Doulas are present for the delivery and support new moms through the birth, and they continue to work with mothers on newborn care and breastfeeding.

When the baby is no longer a newborn, a Parent Educator takes over. The focus shifts onto the child’s healthy development and growth. Parent Educators visit the new moms at home every other week and teach family-centered, strengths-based approaches to create a stronger bond between mother and child.

Mothers enrolled in TAPPS receiving diaper donations

Through TAPPS, mothers can also get connected to a bimonthly prenatal group, which offers group curriculum for pregnant mothers and a parenting group. The parenting group offers a monthly group activity for all TAPPS families, giving them the opportunity to meet other parents while enjoying field trips and building a support network. Meeting other young mothers is a powerful way for new moms to feel less alone and find a community of people who understand their experience.

Michael said that, although many organizations offer home visiting services, Christopher House is unique in its connection to high-quality childcare.

 “One of the biggest jumps out there in the early stage of being a parent is going from a new mom to reestablishing your life again by going back to work or school,” he explained. “In many programs, there is a gap between home visiting programs and getting childcare…you have the support from your home visiting program but it’s on you to get childcare. With Christopher House, we come in and share that our applications for early childcare are opening up, and we do the application together.”

Children can enroll in Christopher House’s Infant & Pre-School when they are as young as six weeks old. The Infant & Pre-School is one of the best early childhood options in the city, offering continuity of care—children stay in the same classroom with the same teacher for the first three years—and three teachers per classroom. With our recent expansion, scholars can begin with Christopher House as infants and receive education and support services through the eighth grade.

Christopher House is set apart by its two-generation approach, which ensures that both the children and the parents are supported through education, resources, and personalized support. Through TAPPS, teen moms can access the education and resources they need and connect their children to high-quality childcare so they can move on to the next career or education opportunity.

 “TAPPS is a front door to the community. We meet you where you’re at with the hope to get you connected with all the resources at Christopher House. We can be that first step for you to continue on your journey as a parent and your journey with Christopher House.”

Our services are free—if you or someone you know could use a doula or parent educator, please contact for more information.

Christopher House provides education and resources to more than 4,100 low-income individuals in the Belmont Cragin, Logan Square and Uptown neighborhoods of Chicago. Christopher House partners with families, including teenage and single-parent households, to provide education for students and tools for parents to foster self-sufficiency. The ultimate vision of Christopher House is to create and implement a national model to help low-income, at-risk children and their families achieve success in school, the workplace, and life.

Christopher House Elementary School Receives Highest Possible Rating in 5Essentials Survey

Unique Model Found to be 10x More Effective in Increasing Student Learning 
By: Ruth Perret-Goluboff 


Christopher House works to close the opportunity gap for low-income, at-risk children and their families. This is not one-size-fits-all work. Our work is as fluid and dynamic as the constantly-changing educational and socio-economic landscape in which we operate. We keep up by constantly measuring and adapting. 

Christopher House maintains high standards for tracking and using individual, classroom, and community data to continually improve and achieve better results for the individuals and families we serve.  

Recently, Christopher House Elementary School participated in the 5Essentials Survey, which provides school leadership with the data needed to assess their school’s organizational conditions and inform school improvement planning. The results are in – Christopher House Elementary School received the highest possible rating in all five categories, and our model was found to be 10 times more effective in increasing student learning. 


The 5Essentials Survey, developed by the state of Illinois and executed by the University of Chicago, is an evidence-based system designed to drive improvement in schools. The survey, which is taken by all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade teachers, and all 4th through 12th grade students at a school, features questions that measure performance on a scale of 0 to 100 in five key categories:  

  1.  Effective Leaders 
  2.  Collaborative Teachers
  3.  Involved Families 
  4. Supportive Environment 
  5. Ambitious Instruction 


Schools that want to improve their methods need to measure their results. Up until recently, standardized testing was the cornerstone of measurement in educational settings. However, they often fail to provide a full picture of the teaching and learning landscape, and encourage teaching-to-the-test instruction.  

Designed with this in mind, the 5Essentials Survey takes a holistic approach to measurement – both with whom and what it surveys. It allows for both students and teachers to weigh in on improving their school, and the results provide clear pathways for improvement. 


The 5Essentials Survey is used to measure schools across Illinois and the nation. And while Christopher House has a unique model, these five categories are still good gauges of success and efficacy. 

Christopher House has a unique model because it has a unique mission: to close the opportunity gap for low-income, at-risk children and their families. To achieve that goal, we provide scholars and their family with a high-quality education starting at birth, bolstered by immersive family support services. 

We spoke with Christopher House Elementary School Principal, Krissy Novy, to better understand our model through the lens of the 5Essential categories and how she and her team achieved such stellar results: 


The first of the 5Essentials categories, ‘Effective Leaders’ measures how well the principal works with teachers to implement a clear and strategic vision for school success.  

Christopher House’s Score: 86 
Chicago Public Schools Average Score: 58 
Christopher House Example: Christopher House’s core values serve as guiding principles for our methodology:  

  • Commitment to Excellence 
  • Achievement and Perseverance 
  • Respect and Compassion 
  • Equality of Opportunity  

“Our work is anchored in these core values,” says Principal Krissy Novy. “At the beginning of every school year we have an all-staff workshop in which we discuss the core values that will direct us this year and how we’re going to fulfill them through our work.”  

“This year we were coached on and became certified in positive discipline, which ties back to our Respect and Compassion core value. Positive discipline will be integral in our commitment to our scholars’ social and emotional development, as the method is designed to build emotional competence and their ability to understand themselves.” 

The ‘Effective Leaders’ category measures how well the principal collaborates with teachers, but Principal Novy ensures that the Christopher House core values extend and are relayed to all levels of staff – last month Christopher House Elementary School’s security guards were also certified in Positive Discipline.  

Christopher House’s core values, and the way Principal Novy shares them with her team, serve as a compass used by all staff to guide their work – ensuring a unified strategy and vision.  


The second of the 5Essentials categories, ‘Collaborative Teachers’ measures how teachers collaborate to promote professional growth.   

Christopher House’s Score: 87 
Chicago Public Schools Average Score: 65 

Christopher House Example: Christopher House teachers are encouraged to collaborate in several different areas of their work, and there are processes in place for them to do so. Principal Novy explains that, while there are high standards each classroom must meet, the teachers are encouraged to take it from there: “From day one, we lay out expectations for planning the classroom environment look and feel. They serve as a foundational framework to ensure our high standards are met, and from there we encourage a lot of customization and teacher voice.”  

That process of customization is completed via teacher collaboration: “every grade level team creates units together – they write their lesson plans and turn them in as a team, so there needs to be agreement amongst teachers.” Principal Novy finds that this collaborative process gives rise to engaging discussions and ideas that may not have been brought to light if teachers were developing lesson plans independently. “It brings together the diverse and robust expertise of all of our teachers – resulting in a curriculum that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 


The third of the 5Essentials categories, ‘Involved Families’ measures how the entire school staff builds strong relationships with families and communities to support learning.   

Christopher House’s Score: 93 
Chicago Public Schools Average Score: 68 

Christopher House Example: Christopher House’s model is predicated on family involvement. We believe that parents are their child’s first teachers. Through our Parent School, we partner with parents to ensure a safe, self-sufficient, and nurturing home environment conducive to educational success.  

Principal Novy says that it is “a priority that all Christopher House families feel valued and involved in the school.” Families are brought into the fold through our immersive family supports, one of which involves working with a family advocate. “At Christopher House Elementary School, our teachers work with parents to set up three family goals to achieve throughout the year. The family then works with that teacher and a family advocate throughout the year to make sure they are on track to achieve that goal. “We are very growth focused,” says Principal Novy, “and goals are tailored to that family.”  

Goals range from a scholar being able to write out their full name, to a parent securing stable housing. The collaborative, teamwork nature of family involvement at Christopher House closes the gap between school and home, and represents a unified effort towards the best possible education for our scholars. 


The fourth of the 5Essentials categories, ‘Supportive Environment’ measures how safe and orderly the school is, the expectations teachers have for their students, and how supportive students are of one another.  

Christopher House’s Score: 88 
Chicago Public Schools Average Score: 53 

Christopher House Example: Just as we work with parents to ensure a safe and nurturing home environment, we work to uphold the same standards at school. We believe that scholars feeling secure at school – both in the facility, and with staff and their peers – is critical to effective learning. This manifests in a number of ways, as Principal Novy explains: “At the beginning of every school year, we conduct a walk-through of the facility with every member of staff – both to ensure that staff knows where everything is, and to provide an opportunity for staff to provide feedback on safety, hallway, and entry/exit protocols.”  

Similar levels of thought and intention are put into how students can feel most comfortable around their peers. “We encourage students to collaborate like they would as adults – If they work together to develop presentations, research, resolve conflicts, and explore debates they will be more confident and more prepared for high school, college, and the workforce.”  


The fifth of the 5Essentials categories, ‘Ambitious Instruction’ measures the academic rigor and demands of classes, student engagement, and the level to which teachers emphasize the application of knowledge.  

Christopher House’s Score: 86 
Chicago Public Schools Average Score: 77 

Christopher House Example: Principal Krissy Novy believes that one of the best ways to lend academic rigor to the classroom is to consider the role of the teacher in relation to the students – and sometimes even limit it: “A number of our classrooms employ the Socratic seminar method – in which the teacher acts as a facilitator to a student-led classroom discussion.”  

This style of instruction allows for students to help one another understand ideas, stimulates critical thinking, and encourages confidence in public-speaking.  


Receiving the highest possible rating on the 5Essentials Survey is an achievement that Christopher House is proud of – but it is not a finish line. We are constantly working to optimize our methods and improve the educational experience for our scholars.  

These results are an indicator that we are on track to achieving our mission of closing the opportunity gap for low-income children and their families, and we are as resolved as ever to charge ahead.  

Principal Novy and her team can achieve stellar results like these because of the support of our donors. We welcome you to join us in supporting the children and families we serve by donating today.