In a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. of Memphis and Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr. of Shelby County, Tennessee, spoke to a room full of reporters about the recent news that there are some 90 girls at local Frayser High School who are currently pregnant or were pregnant and are now parents within the last year.
Wharton acknowledges that this is a serious issue in Memphis, but also doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea about what is happening in his city. Dealing with teen pregnancy is going to be everybody’s challenge, Wharton said.
“I want to make one thing clear — the matter of teenage pregnancy is not something that was invented in Frayser or Boxtown, or Midtown, or any particular part of our city,” Wharton said. “Frayser doesn’t have a patent or trademark on this issue. These are not statistics, these are people and tragically [the] most venerable people.”
According to Luttrell, Tennessee ranks 42nd in the nation in terms of teen pregnancy but says that the teen pregnancy rate in his county is 20 percent higher than the states rate.
Memphis City Schools curriculum offers 9th graders a family life education course that has a heavy emphasis on abstinence from sex outside of marriage. The school district is going to be rolling out a new “No Baby” program in hopes to help curtail the large number of teen pregnancies.
The new program presented by Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization that teaches women’s empowerment, will incorporate Facebook and text messaging as a part of the “in your face” efforts to teach the girls “how to say no” to sex. ‘No Baby’ will also push abstinence and will not give out any form of contraceptives.
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“Right now, these girls don’t know how to say ‘no,’ they’re having sex when they don’t want to, they just don’t know how to say ‘no,’” said Deborah Hester Harrison, Executive Director of Girls Inc.
James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based organization focused on reducing teen pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases among young people, says that there’s strong evidence a comprehensive approach that includes abstinence and contraceptives is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.
“To only promote abstinence and to preclude contraceptives is unilateral disarmament in the face of the teen pregnancy crisis. We have to deploy all the tools and resources we have, and that means go with a comprehensive approach,” Wagoner said. “Common sense sort of tells you that with this volume of pregnancy young people are having sex and they’d be much better off providing sexually active young people with the tools to prevent teen pregnancy while you are encouraging young people not to engage in sex. That’s not only good science that’s basic common sense.”
Dr. Kriner Cash, the Superintendent of Memphis City Schools, attempted to debunk the news that 90 students at Frayser High School were currently pregnant. Cash said that because of specialized programs at Frayser geared towards teens that are pregnant or have children, many students have transferred to Frayser to participate in these programs and that is likely where the number of 90 came from.
“This notion that there are 90 pregnant students at Frayser high School right now is not true,” Cash said. “What is true is that there are programs at Frayser High School where young people who have babies and may be pregnant are coming or are already enrolled at Frayser to provide and get the kind of support that Dr. Turner and many other staff members there provide.”
Cash said the problem is not just an issue with teens getting pregnant, but also an issue with “baby daddies,” and says it is happening to young girls for a “whole host of reasons.”
One of the factors would certainly be the level of poverty at Frayser High. Nearly 100 percent of the students attending the school qualify for a free or reduced lunch program, and many are from single parent homes, or homes where teen pregnancy is generational.
Mayor Wharton said in the press conference that this problem is “everybody’s challenge” and people need to look forward.
“As we always do here in Memphis, what some call a problem we are going to see this as an opportunity to take what could be labeled as bad and turn it into what is definitely good.”