Alternative schools focus on pregnancy
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Monday, October 08, 2012
10/08/12 at 6:20 AM
Find more of the Tulsa World’s ongoing
coverage of teen pregnancy
Union's alternative school looks and feels like any high school.
Some kids hold hands in the hallway, work on school work during lunch break or chat about their upcoming weekend plans.
Except, 42 of these 200 students are teen parents.
They did not become mommies and daddies while enrolled in the program, but principal Richard Storm said the offerings evolved to support those young parents.
"They are the hardest ones to keep in school," Storm said. "They have so many additional responsibilities in addition to being a high school student. It's easier for them to give up and get a job, rather than keep their nose to the grindstone, finish school and have a better future."
Pregnant and parenting teens have the option of staying in their schools, but many choose to attend alternative schools.
Advocates say Union's alternative program provides one of the strongest parenting and prevention components, pointing to its partnership with Oklahoma Parents as Teachers, administered by Tulsa's Community Action Project, and the Tulsa City-County Health Department.
Parent educators have offices on-site, hold regular meetings, make home visits and stay connected with the students while on campus.
The group meetings feature speakers and demonstrations such as infant CPR, poison control and discussions about healthy relationships.
The alternative program is attractive to teen parents because they can still be around other students and have a co-ed experience, said parent educator Debbie Price.
"They want to feel like they are in high school," Price said. "It's not a traditional school setting, but it is more so than in a place where everyone might be a parent. You are learning from other students who are not parents and see what they are dealing with."
Price said setting goals is a top priority, with an eye on what they will do after graduation. Emphasis is placed on waiting to have any subsequent children and knowing the developmental stages of a child.
"These girls are growing up and caring about education," Price said. "That's how we combat generational poverty."
It's not just about the girls.
Teen dads are part of the program as well, with some becoming fathers as young as 14.
"For the dads, this is not just about the financial aspect but also about the social and emotional responsibilities to their child," Price said. "We are instilling the need for attachment. If you have attachment with a child, you are setting the stage for later success for your baby."
The prevention component, which all students attend, is offered by the Tulsa City-County Health Department, Storm said.
"We try very hard to be a comprehensive program to meet the needs of all students who come here," Storm said.
State ranks high
Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in teen pregnancies and No. 2 in the U.S. in births among 18- to 19-year-olds.
About 40 percent of teenagers who have children before age 18 graduate from high school, compared to 75 percent of teens from similar social and economic backgrounds who do not give birth until ages 20 or 21, according to a 2009 report compiled by the Community Service Council of Tulsa.
About 64 percent of children born to an unmarried teenage high-school dropout live in poverty, compared to 7 percent of children born to women older than 20 who are married and high school graduates, the report states.
A child born to a teenage mother is 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade in school and is more likely to perform poorly on standardized tests and drop out before finishing high school, the report found.
"Our kids deserve getting information," said Annette Leon, director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department's prevention program. "Our Oklahoma kids don't need to be No. 5 in the nation. We need to do better. We have to do something."
Catch them early
Traditionally, districts have placed pregnancy preventing and parenting skills programs in the alternative schools, rather than in the traditional setting.
But that is changing.
Several districts are putting teen pregnancy prevention programs into the general classrooms. All say these are voluntary and with parental consent.
The Union district offers the Carrera program, which is a scientifically proven teen pregnancy prevention program implemented in 12 states reaching 3,500 students.
Tulsa Public Schools integrated the Tulsa Health Department's program, Personal Responsibility Education Program, or PREP, into its summer school for high school students at three sites.
TPS formed a committee of parents and students to review the results of the program and possibly recommend a program for middle and high schools.
Leon said the PREP program is in its second year and is evidence-based, meaning it has undergone scientific studies to verify positive outcomes.
"We have to catch them before they are making decisions, before they are having sex," Leon said. "We need to catch them in middle school."
Sand Springs offers the PREP curriculum in the seventh, ninth and 11th grades, and Sperry Middle School also offers the program.
Leon said the curriculum includes a parent component to explain specifically what students will be hearing and how they can extend those conversations at home.
"We cannot teach values," Leon said. "We just have to teach the facts."
Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said the district staff recommended the Health Department's program.
"When you advocate for children, you have to be concerned about the condition of all children," Snow said. "We have all kinds of children coming to us in different ways. We have a spirit of trying to address all the needs of children."
Snow said the program has been working effectively and without controversy.
"When most folks take the time to be fully informed of what is and what isn't, it boils down to what is true and how to address this in a meaningful and professional way," Snow said. "Most people will be on board."
Snow gives credit to school board members willing to back prevention programs.
"It takes courageous boards of education," Snow said. "They are making a difference in every way possible and willing to go forward with programs that are edgy."
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376