Saturday, August 28, 2010

Diplomas Not Diapers

In 1987, a girl gave birth in the 3rd floor bathroom of my high school.

She cut the baby's umbilical cord with cuticle scissors, wrapped him up in the district provided coarse, brown paper towels, and threw him in the trash.

Another student found her (and the baby), still in the bathroom, bleeding profusely and in shock.

Allegedly, she didn't even know she was pregnant.

She was not special needs.

1 year later, at my new high school where I joined the speech and debate team, I became close friends with one of my teammates - an amazing young woman who, at 15, was pregnant.

She competed as a debater that entire year, going to the state tournament about a month before she was due. She would come back to school and compete the next year and the next...all while raising her daughter, working, and going to school full time.

The year after she gave birth, there were 52 girls in my high school of 900 who were pregnant. 52 who were pregnant that the district new about, that is. Those didn't include the girls who decided to terminate the pregnancy or who miscarried early or who moved away where no one knew them.

That's 12% of the female population for those of you not up on the maths.

Since then, I've been a vocal advocate for both sex education and access to birth control for teens.

For many years, I'd hypothesized that the teen pregnancy rate was so high there because it was a somewhat small community with no sex education and the nearest Planned Parenthood 45 miles away in Colorado.

But then I started working for Denver Public Schools - a major metropolitan urban school district.

Last week, one of the Denver Public Schools - Bruce Randolph School for 6th through 12th grades - began allowing the distribution of contraceptives from its Denver Health school-based clinic.

It is the first of the DPS schools to do so even though a task force recommended 3 years ago that 6 of the DPS high schools should dispense birth control.

The parents overwhelmingly voted in favor of the new policy. 90% of them, in fact.

Denver Public Schools teen pregnancy rate is more than double the national average.

40% of high schools nationally dispense contraceptives from school-based clinics.

Do we see a problem here?

I'm actually giddy over the fact that there is now a DPS school offering reproductive health services to its students. Seriously. I'm hopeful it's simply a matter of time before the other DPS high schools follow suit.

And I'm also thinking...23 years I've been hyper aware of this problem.

What the hell is taking so long?!

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