Teen pregnancy rates raise alarms

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

Alarming statistics show that more than 30 percent of Roosevelt County in ninth through 12th grade students are engaging in sexual activity. Recent reports also indicate that younger children are also starting to explore and participate in sexual activity.

Conducted by the New Mexico Department of Health, New Mexico Public Education Department and the University of New Mexico Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the recent 2005 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) report has officials locally and state-wide concerned over the reports findings.

Results from the report show that 30.8 percent of Roosevelt County ninth- through 12th-graders have participated in sexual activity over the three-month survey period. The rate for New Mexico teens in the same category was 32.8 percent, according to the report results.

According to Terry Teti, executive director of Community Resources, Inc., Portales has a high pregnancy rate, closely following that of New Mexico, which has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the United States.

Alarming reports are coming in from the New Mexico Department of Health concerning children, as young as sixth-graders, who are participating in oral sex. Many of the children are having, what they call hook-up parties, where the acts are being performed, said Teti. The students are reporting to the health department, complaining of sores in their mouths, which are being diagnosed as oral herpes. Due to confidentiality laws, the parents cannot be informed of what their children are doing, said Teti.

Teti hopes to change this alarming problem by implementing programs into the schools and the community. The programs would teach students about abstinence and the consequences that arise from sexual activity, and would also provide educational programs for parents.

“I don’t want to see one kid in this town suffer from an STD (Sexually transmitted disease) the rest of their lives, because of misinformation,” said Teti.

Teti has plans to re-implement the “Worth the Wait” abstinence program into area schools. The basis of the program is to promote abstinence until marriage, to the students. Currently, funding for the program is at a standstill, she said.

Teti said that funding for the Title V program is not being released by the New Mexico Department of Health until a curriculum has been chosen for the state. This has caused a difficult snag for contractors, she said.

“They (N.M. Department of Health) do not like any of the curriculum they have reviewed because they all promote abstinence until marriage,” said Teti.

On the other side of the spectrum, Portales High School has implemented the Graduation, Reality and Dual Role Skills program. The program is designed to help teen moms deal with issues that arise with pregnancy, said Laura Adkins, GRADS instructor.

“My program is really to prevent a second pregnancy and to help the students graduate from high school,” said Adkins.

Though the students come to the program after they become pregnant, Adkins tries to teach the students birth control methods and how to prevent a second pregnancy. The program also teaches the students how to deal with life issues that come with a life-changing experience like pregnancy. The program also teaches teen mothers skills in areas such as, child care and development, parenting and how to have and build healthy relationships.

Career resources and development are also offered to help mothers provide for their child’s future. The program also strives to help the students finish high school, said Adkins.

“Having a child has a lot of barriers to finishing high school,” said Adkins.

Saying he feels that abstinence is the best route to follow, Thomas Tafoya, PHS Counselor, has plans to work with Eastern New Mexico University to implement focus groups in the high school that would center on topics such as teen pregnancy and drugs, he said.

“It’s no doubt that education is definitely the way to go,” said Tafoya.

A majority of teens are not receptive to the sexual education programs. Many of the teens prefer to make fun of the situation, rather than learn to avoid possible life-changing situations. A few of the students will take what is being taught to heart and learn to avoid any possible situation that could affect their life, said Tafoya.

“Adults see things differently. It’s hard for a 14- or 15-year-old to see things the way adults do. It’s hard to convince them,” said Tafoya.