Shows like “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” glamorize pregnancy, but for some girls in Webster, this isn’t just a show: it’s their life.
Webster Groves has seen a decrease in teen pregnancy rates over the past 10 to 15 years but has seemed to average out at about three girls per year.
“We’ve seen an average of three girls per year, for about the past 10 years,” said Nurse JoAnn Nestor. “What I do [when girls come to me] is to really encourage girls to talk to their parents. Parents really have their best interests at heart.”
“A few years ago, we would have had seven, eight, nine girls who were pregnant per year,” said Flo Meir, counselor. “Now there are only three, four or five girls who are pregnant per year.”
“Being a teen parent is not easy,” said crisis counselor Anne Gibbs. “It’s not glorious. It makes being able to go to college really hard with trying to find childcare or being able to study.”
Some schools in the United States set their own “pregnancy policies” like Delhi Charter School in Louisiana, which forces girls it believes might be pregnant to take a pregnancy test, with suspension or expulsion if she is pregnant.
Webster Groves has no such policy.
“Our goal is to help her communicate with her family or people who can help her,” said Dr. Sarah Riss, superintendent. “Every situation is different. Any decisions need to be done with the student and family in mind. We have to be very flexible because people are different, bodies are different, and goals are different.”
Webster Groves’ main prevention practice is the health class, a required course for students to take.
Missouri laws state that any information a health class gives to its students that relates to human sexuality must be medically and factually accurate.
The health classes must present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior, discuss the emotional and psychological consequences of sexual activity or pregnancy and the advantages of adoption.
The school district must also notify parents or legal guardians about what the basic content of the human sexuality instruction will be provided and of the parent’s right to remove students from any part of that instruction.
“Sex is emotionally and physically hard for girls,” said Gibbs. “Don’t take it lightly, and if you do decide to have sex, discuss that with your partners. If you can’t even talk about it, then don’t have sex with them. The biggest thing is the emotional part, especially if you’re having sex for the wrong reasons like to just to feel wanted or fit in. We need to look at what’s really effective sex education.”
“It needs to go beyond the school. Parents need to talk to their kids,” said social worker Pat Ferrugia. “There’s a lot of misinformation about sex.”
Once a student gets pregnant, however, the school district changes its focus from preventative to instructive.
“We want to prevent her education from getting interrupted,” said assistant principal John Raimondo. “We encourage parent discussion and talking to the school nurse to make sure she and the fetus are safe. The counselors work with the students for home instruction, for a set period of time [typically after labor]. If the girls miss days here or there, then the teachers work with the students, and they work hard to make the work up.”
“My friend got pregnant when she was 15,” said senior Cat Wegeschiede. “She regrets getting pregnant [so young] because it’s not easy. Anytime she’s home, the baby needs her attention. She has no alone time, and if someone can’t watch the baby while she’s at school, she needs to stay at home. She gets very depressed because people will look down on her or think she’s promiscuous when she’s not.”
Several programs are available at the high school for a pregnant student.
The Parents as Teachers program, which does home visits, group visits and individual visits, essentially tailors the program to every girl’s situation. The parent educator works with the children until the age of five.
This program is partnered with WICK, a program that provides the girls with money for food and other necessities or lists of licensed childcare.
“The biggest challenge for these girls is attending school and raising a baby,” said Meir. “It’s always going to be an issue.”