Teen pregnancy rates, which once warranted national conversation, are the lowest they have been in the past 20 years. Shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” have helped keep the topic on the social forefront, and the attention tactic appears to be working.
In 2009, around 410,000 teenage girls, ages 15 to 19, gave birth in the United States. That’s a 37 percent decrease from the teen birth rate in previous years. In a press release attached to the new Vital Signs Report, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the CDC, wrote that, despite the steady reduction in teen pregnancies over the last two decades, “still far too many teens are having babies.” Approximately 1,100 teenage girls give birth every day with the majority being of Hispanic and African American backgrounds.
The Vital Signs Report also indicates a decrease in the percentage of high school students having sex and an increase in contraception use among those who are sexually active. And while the report shows the numbers are moving in the right direction, it is not an indicator that parents and educators can ease up on the sexual responsibility dialogue — like the Detroit Public Schools system is doing with the closing of the Catherine Ferguson Academy on June 17.
One of only four other programs in the nation, Catherine Ferguson Academy is falling victim to what happens when student support takes a back seat to fiscal feasibility. The Academy provides daycare and kindergarten at the school while teenage mothers attend classes. The school is also a working farm where students are trained in animal care, entrepreneurship and farming. Young mothers are able to complete their education, prepare for college and learn employable trade skills while their children start early education to prepare them for successful academic careers.
In addition, the Catherine Ferguson Academy boasts a 97 percent attendance rate with a 90 percent graduation rate. These are impressive numbers for any school, but especially impressive since the students are either already mothers or mothers-to-be.
According to the school’s principal, Asenath Andrews, the reasons for closing the school were cost and a declining student population, despite the fact that the school serves over 300 students. Those dislocated students will be expected to transfer to neighborhood schools and make arrangements for their children at day care facilities or other schools.
With all of the challenges these young mothers already face, it’s difficult to watch the removal of any support available to them. The derailment of two more generations of African Americans could prove a lot more costly than keeping the doors of the Catherine Ferguson Academy open.