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Washington County coalition redefining priorities to reduce teen pregnancy

July 14, 2008|By BERNADETTE WAGNER

On June 27, Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition held its annual strategic planning session to determine the organization's direction.

I participated as the Washington County Board of Education liaison to the coalition. The purpose of the meeting was to redefine priorities and focus and resources in order to make the greatest impact on reducing teen pregnancy in Washington County.

The meeting was facilitated by Anjie Doll, who reviewed relevant state and local statistics, led a discussion on the effectiveness of past initiatives and encouraged an evaluation of priorities based on a grid she called the "Nike Box." The Nike Box was used to evaluate each initiative on two continuums: High impact, vs. low impact and high complexity vs. low complexity.

The initiatives that were rated as high impact and low complexity were put in the "Just Do It" quadrant of the box. These included the ninth-grade assemblies and the sixth-grade presentations, both involving partnerships with Washington County Public Schools.

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Not surprisingly, given the diverse background of the coalition members and their incredible passion, concern and interest in reducing teen pregnancy, it was difficult to reach consensus on which initiatives to eliminate and how best to redirect funds to have the greatest impact. Because teens are diverse and respond differently to various aspects of the coalition's message, each initiative was considered an important tool in the arsenal to combat teen pregnancy.

Further discernment will no doubt help focus the efforts of the coalition.

As a BOE member, I am pleased with the partnership that exists between WCPS and the coalition but am interested in establishing new avenues to strengthen the schools' involvement in reducing teen pregnancy. Currently, a small but dedicated group of students works to advise the board of directors on a variety of issues. This group, known as TAG (Teen Advisory Group,) has been instrumental in promoting the Ad and Film Contest sponsored by the coalition, designing the Web site TeensHaveChoices and articulating, from a teen perspective, the world of possibilities open to teens who wait to conceive.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this group could be expanded and exist in every high school and middle school in Washington County? It would be better yet if student TAG members could earn Student Service Learning hours while strengthening their community.

Dr. Ron Keyser, a longtime pediatrician and member of the coalition, knows the importance of partnering with educational institutions to reduce teen pregnancy. He understands the correlation between poverty and teen pregnancy, and believes education is the key to breaking that cycle.

For several years he has suggested that Washington County implement a program similar to one in Garrett County, Md., that guarantees college scholarships to all high school students who achieve a predetermined standard.

The program suggested by Keyser could be tweaked to fit the needs and budget of Washington County, and could significantly reduce the rate of teen pregnancy. The scholarship program could be tailored to address the teens that, according to research, are most at risk, such as teens born to teen mothers.

Promising scholarships to eligible students to attend local institutions of higher learning, such as HCC, Kaplan College and Barr Academy, would encourage parents to be involved in their children's education, motivate students to achieve academically and provide a viable road to higher education for many families who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

If the collective will of the citizens of Washington County supported this idea, nothing, including necessary funding, could stop it. A nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization could be established to which business leaders, church groups and individuals interested in reducing and/or eliminating teen pregnancy could donate.

Possibly, the county government, on an annual basis, could match the total raised through private donations, and local institutions of higher learning could reduce the tuition for these students.

It wouldn't be easy but it wouldn't be impossible, either, if like the coalition, all citizens were focused on the goal of reducing teen pregnancy.

Bernadette Wagner is a member of the Washington County Board of Education.

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