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Peers and pregnancy

March 16, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WILLIAMSPORT

To some of their peers, having sex and getting pregnant is no big deal, several Williamsport High School students said Wednesday.

"Pregnancy is something to be proud of nowadays. You see people walk down the halls, and it's like, 'I'm pregnant.' Wow, good," Emily Crilly, 17, said after track practice at the high school.

Attitudes about sexual activity and a lack of supervision could be behind the county's high teen pregnancy rate, educators said.

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel told the County Commissioners on Tuesday that 15 pregnant girls attended the county's fourth-largest high school at the beginning of the school year, but dropout prevention specialist Lee Brooks disputed that number Wednesday.

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Two girls at Williamsport - a senior and a freshman - are pregnant, Brooks said. Ten other teen mothers either graduated this year or are attending Evening High School or the Washington County Family Center, which provides the students child care, according to figures provided by Brooks. One young mother still attends Williamsport, and she will graduate in June, Brooks said.

Two boys are expecting the births of children, and one boy already is a father, Brooks said.

"It's a lot of peer pressure, I think, because a lot of people are like, 'Come on, do it, it's fun,'" Williamsport senior Brady Myers said.

Brady, 17, said both male and female students sometimes flaunt their choices.

"Girls don't find it bad to get abortions, practically. They will, they don't care," he said.

Christoffel told the Commissioners on Wednesday that 39 Washington County high school students and three middle school students are pregnant. He has pushed for the school system to change its curriculum in light of the statistics, but Brooks said Wednesday she believed the community must take responsibility.

"I guess it's going to have to tap into some belief systems and so forth. Maybe that's a real pie-in-the-sky attitude, but until the community takes interest in and ownership of the problem, I just don't feel we're going to get very far," Brooks said.

Lacie Johnson, 17, whose mother teaches at Williamsport, said she believes some students might not have families that set the same standards.

"I think some people could have higher values than others, or they grow up in good families. That makes a big difference," she said.

According to Brooks, Williamsport's teen parents come from a range of backgrounds and family environments. She acknowledged the school system might need to look at broadening its health studies curriculum to younger students

"I probably, as a parent, would have shuddered to think that it needed to start in the earlier grades, but as we're seeing sexual activity and even pregnancy in the middle schools, maybe it needs to start earlier," Brooks said.

Emily, a member of a task force looking into ways to cut the teen pregnancy rate, expressed criticism of the family life class.

"It's called health and life skills. You take a baby home, but it's not the same. ... Basically, you stick a key in its back, and it shuts up," Emily said.

Emily said the task force has discussed whether schools should make contraception available to sexually active students, because "basically we decided there's nothing we can do to stop it."

At Washington County Family Center, where six Williamsport girls currently attend class, Director Karen Christof said free condoms are available to students.

While the staff talks to students about the risks of continued sexual behavior, Christof said she believes the need for the program would diminish if students had the opportunity to talk freely about sex at their home schools.

"I don't think it would stop 100 percent of them (from getting pregnant), but it would get our rates down quite a bit if they could have those kind of scary conversations," Christof said.

Susan Johnson, Lacie's mother, said she believed a lack of parent supervision is behind the statistics. The schools are doing as much as they can, she said.

"In today's society, it just seems to me, there's no reason a child should be pregnant. I think the kids are much more educated about the topics and the subjects and what to do and what not to do, that to me, it's just amazing it's happening as much as it is," she said.

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