Action through education

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 13, 2007

JACKSON – School Nurse Jeanie Watson is seeing more than just a scraped knee these days at Northampton County High School-East (NCHS-East).

Now days she’s seeing more of the county’s teenagers becoming parents.

“Just walking down the hall you see it,” said Watson.

According to The Advocate, a newsletter published by APPCNC (Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina), Northampton County was listed as having the third highest rate for teen pregnancy in the state.

Northampton trailed only two other counties including Vance County, which had the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the state, and neighboring Hertford County, which was listed as number two on the list.

Now, Northampton County is fighting back through utilizing resources, collaborating with Hertford and a marketing campaign targeting teens that will help promote abstinence.

‘An epidemic’

Action was first taken on Jan. 19 when the Northampton County Public Schools hosted a Preventing Teen Pregnancy Taskforce meeting, pulling out all the resources to devise how to combat teen pregnancy and to face the reality of the situation in their county.

“Ladies and gentlemen we have an epidemic,” said Susie Johnson, director of community/school relations and student services of Northampton County Schools at the meeting. “We know we have a problem and we’re going to take care of it.”

Johnson reported there were 14 births on the high school level in Northampton County in the 2006-2007 year.

A total of 45 people attended the meeting. Various resources came from Northampton County departments to law enforcement personnel to organizations.

“We have seniors having their second baby,” said Johnson.

In addition to having a high teen pregnancy rate, Northampton County has a high drop out rate and a high infant mortality rate.

“All of these go hand in hand,” said Johnson.

Costs for teen parents and taxpayers

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 41 percent of teen moms complete high school and 1.5 percent earn a college degree.

Nurse Watson said she sees a lot of pregnant students drop out after they give birth due to the demands from parenthood.

“If they come back (to school) they may have to repeat a grade,” she said. “Their school work suffers because they have to find someone to look after the child.”

Pregnancy is not the only thing that teens may face.

For anyone, unprotected sex can lead to the risk of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases).

“HIV and AIDS runs rampant in Northampton County,” said Northampton County Health Department Director Sue Gay. She went on to say that both HIV and AIDS can be found in all age groups from teens to 70 year olds.

Pregnancy also has its risks for both mother and child.

Health Department Health Educator Sharon Long said teen moms are at risks for health problems that go along with any pregnancy, problems such as hypertension and gestational diabetes.

Teen parents also struggle with financial difficulties.

“Teen pregnancy is a street to poverty,” said Director Dr. Al Wentzy of Northampton County Department of Social Services (DSS).

Before welfare reform in 1995, Wentzy says what he calls “generational welfare,” was more common, where children who grew up on the DSS system brought their children up on the system and so forth.

Wentzy said that children who grew up in poverty that have a baby, that baby is nine times more likely to live in poverty.

After the reform was passed, Wentzy said each case is now evaluated on an individual basis.

According to Wentzy, Northampton County child poverty rate is at 190 percent as reflected to state rates. The overall poverty rate for the county is 173 percent reflected to state rates.

“This is not unusual for high poverty areas,” said Wentzy about Northampton County’s high teen pregnancy rate.

Teen pregnancies cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually. According to APPCNC teen births cost North Carolina taxpayers $5.2 billion between 1991 and 2004. In 2004 alone taxpayers dished out $312 million.

Wentzy said 50 percent of live births reported in North Carolina were paid for through Medicaid.

Action through education

Evaluation and Abstinence Consultant Sarah Langer from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction gave a presentation at the Jan. 19 meeting about the laws that prohibit the schools from teaching and what the schools can teach.

In her presentation, Langer went over North Carolina General Statute 115C-81, better known as the “Abstinence” law.

The law requires schools to offer abstinence before marriage program. It lays out guidelines for teaching abstinence before marriage.

Schools can offer an abstinence only curriculum, which teaches only abstinence or schools can teach an abstinence based program, which teaches the key concepts of abstinence along with the use of contraceptives.

Langer also presented how the federal government defines abstinence and the revisions to the Healthy Living Course, which Northampton teaches.

During the round table discussion at the Jan. 19 meeting, the attending individuals and departments were asked to share their suggestions for solutions, resources and barriers.

Peer pressure came up several times during the round table discussion as well as pressure from the media that children consume.

Johnson said the next step in the process was pulling together a smaller task force of key people, made up of school and county personnel, members of the faith based community and others, to develop a plan. That plan will go before the board of education for approval.

Meanwhile, progress has been made through collaboration between counties and now a $50,000 Supplemental Abstinence Education Grant for the 2007 year will assist with promotion of abstinence.

“The Preventing Teen Pregnancy Task Force” of both Hertford and Northampton counties will partner on an “Abstinence Marketing Campaign,” which will include billboards on US 158 and t-shirts with slogans.

Parental influence

Though many of those attending the Preventing Teen Pregnancy Task Force meeting may have come from different professional backgrounds, all concluded that one important factor in the solution to preventing teen pregnancy is parental influence.

“We have children focused on adult acts when they should be focused on school and being active in the community,” said Wentzy.

According to a survey done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teens say parents are the most influential when it comes to their decisions about sex.

However, according to the survey, parents believe that teenage friends influence a teen’s decisions about sex.

“We can teach until we’re blue in the face,” said Board of Education Vice Chairperson Bill Little at the January meeting, “but we need to get the parents involved, that’s where the buck stops.”