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Parents of ninth-graders can't skip these meetings

August 24, 2007

Faced with a teen birth rate that is still above the state average, last year Washington County officials scheduled a series of pregnancy-prevention assemblies for local ninth-graders.

But the first assembly in May 2006 had to be postponed, because too few students got their parents to sign permission slips so that they could attend.

That must not happen again. Even if students don't bring home a permission slip, parents need to make it a priority to find out when these events are happening - and decide whether they want their sons and daughters to attend.

If parents aren't sure, they can attend one of three parent-preview meetings that will be held on three days next month.

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The times and dates are as follows:

· On Tuesday, Sept. 18, parents of ninth-graders at North Hagerstown and Smithsburg high schools may attend a preview at Smithsburg High School at 7 p.m.

· On Thursday, Sept. 20, parents of ninth-graders at Boonsboro and South Hagerstown high schools may attend a preview meeting at Boonsboro High School at 7 p.m.

· On Tuesday, Sept. 25, parents of Hancock, Williamsport and Clear Spring ninth-graders may attend a preview meeting at Clear Spring High School at 7 p.m.

By attending these meetings, parents will do two things. They will get a look at what has been described as a graphic presentation on the subject of teen pregnancy prevention.

But attending the meeting will also show teens that this is a subject that their parents take seriously.

And, make no mistake, it is an important subject. In July, Washington County Health Department officials revealed that even though the national teen birth rate is declining, that isn't the case in Washington County.

State data revealed that 46.4 of every 1,000 Washington County females age 15 to 19 gave birth in 2005.

That adds up to the fourth-highest teen birth rate in Maryland. Baltimore City and Caroline and Dorchester counties are the top three.

Even residents who have no children have a stake in reducing the teen birth rate.

Children born to teen mothers are more likely to be abused or neglected and to remain in poverty for most of their lives.

They are also more likely to become involved in substance abuse and other activities that bring them in contact with the criminal-justice system.

So if the plight of a child raised in poverty isn't moving enough, consider that the same child is much more likely to be a burden on the taxpayers than one raised by a more mature parent.

Even if you're not a parent, you can get involved through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, which is working on the issue with Washington County Public Schools, the county Health Department, Girls Inc. of Washington County, the Hagerstown Community College and The Herald-Mail Co.

For more information, call Carrol Lourie, the coalition's director, at 240-818-7555, or e-mail her at clourie@myactv.net.

To learn about about free services for teens at the Washington County Health Department, check online at www.washhealth.org or call 240-313-3296.

Based on the experience of officials in places such as Talbot County, Md., it can take up to 10 years to change an area's culture to make teen pregnancy an unacceptable option.

The good news is that the coalition and its partners have made a good start. With some help from the community, we're confident they'll make major progress on this issue.

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