BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Fewer teenagers are having childrenthese days, but Arkansas still ranks near the top of the list of states withthe highest teen pregnancy rates.
Teenaged moms are more likely to drop out of school, too,but one high school is working to prevent that.
Batesville High School started a support group two years agojust for teen moms, like 17-year-old Debra Griffith.
Griffith recently began her senior year of high school inBatesville. Instead of just worrying about her own future, she's now got tothink about her son's as well.
"I just like having him there with me," she said about herson, Camden. "He makes me happier than anything possibly could."
Griffith had her son when she was just 15 years old. Whenshe first got pregnant, she thought she would have to drop out of school totake care of him, but she's stuck with it thanks to her supportive family. Theexperience, she says, has been anything but easy.
"You just have to notgive up," she said. "You have to want it."
She's also counted on the support group that Leigh Keller,the high school guidance counselor, helped start exclusively for teen moms.
During the past few years, Keller says she noticed more andmore teenaged students having children or getting pregnant. As a mother herself,she thought these girls needed some support, too.
"A lot of the things they were struggling with, I wasthinking you know there should be something to help you guys," Keller said.
The first year the support group formed, it initiallyattracted eight teen moms. The group grew to 14 girls last year, and now fivemeet each month and discuss different things like discipline. That issue isparticularly important to Griffith at the moment since her son is in his "terribletwos."
"I have friends," Griffith said, "but they don't exactlyunderstand where I'm coming from, and they don't really have anything to sayback. It's kind of awkward actually, so it's good to have girls around you thatare going through the same thing."
Keller says the intent is not to harp on the negative, but lookat what's positive instead.
"We don't have to sit and say oh, you did something wrong,"Keller said. "What we try to focus on is the positive – okay, you have a child –let's talk about how to raise that child."
"Our goal is to make sure that they graduate from highschool without having another child," she added. "Number one, we want them tograduate. We want them to finish and have some tools to be able to have asuccessful life after high school."
Griffith says her son has helped her take school moreseriously because she wants to go to college.
"In order to be successful whenever I get out of college andeverything, I don't really have a lot of money to just pay, pay, pay," shesaid, "so I have to work really hard to keep my grades up and make sure that Ihave a future for me and my son."
Even though she would not trade the life she now has withher son, Griffith wants other girls to either wait before they have sex or beextremely careful.
"It's life-changing," she said about having a baby. "Itmakes [life] very hard."
In addition to school and raising her son, Griffith works 30hours a week at a local restaurant. She's unsure what she'd like her career tobe, but next year she hopes to study at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.