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Task force seeks to decrease teen pregnancy

April 10, 2006|by BERNADETTE WAGNER / Board of Education member

Editor's note: On the second Monday of each month, Washington County Board of Education members and school staff will use this space to write about school system issues. This month's column is written by Bernadette Wagner, a member of the Board of Education.




Spring is in the air ... and so is hope.

I recently met with Dale Bannon, executive director of the United Way of Washington County, and Maureen Grove, executive director of Girls Inc., who are members of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force. We discussed their newly found hope to reduce the teen pregnancy birth rate in Washington County by 50 percent over five years.

They attribute their sense of optimism to the effective collaboration of many agencies committed to addressing this critical issue.

"The school system, Health Department, Girls Inc., religious community, medical professionals, business leaders, United Way and other nonprofit service providers are focused and are all working together to achieve this goal," Bannon said.

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Beginning this April and May, in addition to the current Family Life Curriculum, Washington County Public Schools will partner with the Health Department and Girls Inc. to offer a teen pregnancy prevention assembly to all 1,700 ninth-grade students. Previously, only about 250 students received this important information at the annual Interagency Committee on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting conference.

According to Grove, "This is a huge step in addressing the teen pregnancy crisis. The Task Force is excited about reaching so many students."

It gets even better. The task force members will offer the same program to parents at each high school prior to the student assembly. Parents can see the program and will hopefully TALK to their teens about it. This is critical because according to local and national survey data, students' decisions about sexual conduct are most influenced by their parents.

The task force also is developing a parental resource kit to foster better communication between parents and teens.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Needs Assessment conducted by the Community Partnership for Children and Families revealed the need to address the widespread acceptance of teen pregnancy in our community. Fortunately, the task force is expanding its media campaign to combat this phenomenon.

In my opinion, the best way to change the culture of acceptance is to provide young people with more opportunities to envision a future beyond teen parenthood. Grove and Bannon concurred.

According to Grove, "Girls Inc., the Boys and Girls Club, WCPS, YMCA, the Girl and Boy Scouts, and several other agencies provide after-school programs with the same goal."

Grove specifically said that some of these organizations could provide services to more boys and girls if more transportation options were available. This is something she hopes the Task Force will explore in the near future

I am grateful that Washington County has a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force comprised of committed agencies and dedicated individuals. But according to Grove and Bannon, that is not enough. Parents must be involved and teens must be taught to be responsible and accountable for their decisions.

The task force invites and encourages parents to attend the upcoming assemblies, knowing that parental involvement is crucial. Bannon and Grove are confident that the Task Force will achieve its goal. Their enthusiasm makes me hopeful for the future of our teens and the strength of our community.

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