Spike in Teen Pregnancies in Region 8: Does Sex-Education Work?

MONETTE/JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the Buffalo Island School District reported Friday a slight increase in the number of teen pregnancies while the Nettleton School District reported a decrease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arkansas ranks 4th in the country in the number of teen pregnancies. The recent spike has caused some parents and schools to consider revisions in curriculum.

"It's taught as a unit in 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade, and then we offer a health class again in 10th through 12th," said Randy Rose, Principal at Buffalo Island Central High School in Monette.

For example, look at the latest version of Rolling Stone magazine. The front cover has a conservative picture of Taylor Swift holding a guitar: however, just 3 pages in you'll find a provocative advertisement for Calvin Klein Jeans. Officials said peer pressure is most always a factor in a teen's decision making.

"The peer pressure side of it is tremendous. It not only involves them in making choices of what they wear to school, but how they act at home and how they act at school. It may be totally different than how they act, say at church, or when no one's watching," said Rose.

Rose said the underlying problem is that students aren't listening to the information presented to them in sex education classes. Most schools in Region 8 start teaching sex education in the 6th and 7th grades.

"This may sound negative, but I don't know how well kids are listening. I just think that they think they're bullet proof and it's not going to happen to them," said Rose. "Our parenting class takes kids through the physiology part of what happens during pregnancy, and it works through all the factors of being a parent. It goes through some budgeting with kids and without kids, and just kind of a general overview of factors that you would incur as a parent."

The Nettleton School District has seen a slight decrease in teen pregnancies. Belinda Stillwell has been in nursing for more than 15 years. She said she's had young women come to her office with news they're pregnant.

"I talk to them and get a history from them. I see if they are on pre-natal vitamins. Of course, if they've talked to their parents or not, and then I refer them to the appropriate resources," said Stillwell.

Starting Monday, March 9, Buffalo Island Central will start offering parenting classes for students using sugar and flour filled bags to serve as mock children. It's hoped the activity will teach students about the responsibilities of being a parent.

"Certainly it would be a goal of every school that students would remain abstinent until they're adults or until they're married or until they're old enough to make wiser decisions," said Rose.

"We do encourage abstinence here. I think in health classes, they probably cover STDs and those types of consequences from being sexually active," said Stillwell. "They can tell if they've abused the baby. They can tell if they haven't fed the baby or if they've just laid it down and walked away."

Stillwell credited parenting classes, which get students and their parents involved, for the decline in pregnancies at Nettleton.

"They actually carry around babies that have colic, and colic is an unknown phenomenon where babies or infants cry without any comfort," said Stillwell. "I think we have a strong family parent community organization along with the parenting classes and education. I think together, hopefully, as I said, we have had a reduction."

Rose said teenagers are not cognitive of their actions.

"I think it's similar to the idea of drunk driving. Folks think they're not ever going to have a wreck when they get behind the wheel drunk, and teenagers think it's just not going to happen to them, and unfortunately it happens to far too many," said Rose. "I don't know what the solution is. I know in years past, it wasn't the job of the school to offer sex education. That was a job that was supposed to be taken care of by parents, and since that has become a job of the school."

"Academically the challenge they have is oftentimes they're sick. They have to miss a lot of school which puts us in a position to where we have to determine whether to award high school credit for days missed. So it's almost like rewarding a behavior that we would not condone, but normally if they've made their work up and have doctors excuses for those days, we will go ahead and award high school credit," said Rose. "I am also not so naive to think that parents are doing a good job at that. They're not. So it has, for better or worse, failed to the schools. Like so many other things that are parents' jobs, schools have had to get involved in that."

According to the Arkansas Health Department, the highest number of teen pregnancies is among Hispanics with 11.2% of teens having a child. Native Americans have the lowest percentage at 4%.