Teen pregnancy rates have declined steadily for the last four years in Iredell County, a trend being attributed to a change in a state law and several programs that are present in the schools.
In 2008, there were 318 pregnancies in the county in the 15-to-19-year-old demographic.
The next year, North Carolina passed the Healthy Youth Act, which expanded sexual education in the state from abstinence-only teaching to a more comprehensive dissemination of information. Also in 2009, Iredell-Statesville Schools received a five-year, $4 million Proud and Responsible Communities (PARC) grant from the federal government that allowed for the establishment of two sexual education programs that reach middle and high school students.
Coupled with programs being run by the Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC) for students, the work seems to be paying off.
There were 199 teen pregnancies in the county in 2012, a 37 percent decrease from 2008. Numbers have gone down each year, with 272 pregnancies in 2009, 240 in 2010 and 210 in 2011.
PARC grant director Linda Rogers said students are still being taught that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to stop pregnancy, but they are also learning about birth control methods, STDs and how hopes and dreams can be dashed by having a child young.
“The main goal is for kids to have the knowledge so they can make healthy choices, which would be to postpone sexual activity,” said Rogers. “However, we are realistic in knowing that might not be the case.”
Statewide, teen pregnancy rates fell 10 percent in 2012 to a historic low. The rate was 39.6 pregnancies per 1,000 15-to-19-year-old girls. In 2008, the rate was 58.6 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls.
Locally, I-SS has used the PARC grant to set up two programs: Making Proud Choices, which is geared toward stopping pregnancy and Be Proud, Be Responsible, Be Protected, which focuses on preventing multiple pregnancies and educating young mothers on how to raise their children. Each program is 10 hours long. They are held after-school and on weekends, and have reached several hundred students.
The PRC is also working in the schools, especially focusing on middle school students. A program that teaches a curriculum called Choosing the Best is in its second year. Last school year, a PRC representative taught the curriculum to 2,100 students, spending 110 days in schools.
Physical education teachers have to teach sexual education at some point, and the PRC program allows for someone with more experience in the field to come in and teach students. It takes five to eight classes to teach the entire Choosing the Best curriculum, which PRC Executive Director Vicki Miglin said covers all the emotional and physical risks involved with having sex.
“I would rather not have to help a girl in a crisis pregnancy,” said Miglin, adding that the PRC school programs are “treating the root of the problem.”
Sexual education taught during the school day has to steer clear of religious principles, but after-school, anything is fair game. To reach young girls on a different level, the PRC, which is a faith-based organization, started an after-school program at North Iredell Middle last year called Truth Girlz. The first year saw only a handful of participants, but this year 35 girls are in the program.
“We’re free to talk about God in this one,” Miglin said. “We want (the girls) to know how valuable they are, how God created them.”
Truth Girlz meets weekly, and every six weeks they have a truth panel during which questions that have been submitted anonymously are answered candidly. Miglin said girls ask questions such as: How do I get a guy I like to notice me?
“This is a subject kids are interested in,” Miglin said. “They ask questions. They’re invested and they participate. We’re sowing seeds of truth now that will help them in the future.”
Miglin hopes to eventually have a Truth Girlz program at each middle school. Rogers would also like to bring the PARC programs into actual classes during the school day, but so far the school board has said no because it would mean students would be taught how to put a condom on using a wooden prop.
The Iredell County Partnership for Young Children refers many young parents to the PRC and PARC programs. ICPYC Executive Director Marta Koesling said teen parents are one of their targeted at-risk groups, calling the future bleak for most who find themselves pregnant as a teenager.
“The actual day-to-day living, managing, not only a teen’s life with school and career, but then you have the added tremendous burden of having a child,” said Koesling.
ICPYC has tried to work out a day care program for teen parents in I-SS, but has been unsuccessful in finding funding. Teen parents are a tough group to reach, said Koesling. ICPYC had to cancel teen parenting classes last year after hardly anyone signed up.
“Unfortunately, they don’t always cooperate,” Koesling said.
Of the teenagers who did find themselves pregnant the county last year, 71 percent were 18 or 19 years old. African-American girls were nearly three times more likely than white girls to get pregnant, and Hispanic girls were twice as likely to get pregnant as white girls. The overall rate was 37.1 pregnancies per 1,000 15-to-19-year-old girls, with the birth rate at 28.9, suggesting that 22 percent of local teen pregnancies end in abortions.
Rogers said she thought the numbers showed that the county was headed in the right direction, but that there was still work to be done.
“We always say one teen pregnancy is one too many,” Rogers said. “We’re not ready to stop what we’ve done.”