ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Only about half of teen mothers get a high school diploma by age 22, compared to 89 percent of women who didn’t have a teen birth, according to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
About 30 percent of teen girls who have dropped out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a reason, according to the group.
And that’s bad news in Albuquerque, where more than half the students in some high schools say they have had sexual intercourse and more than 10 percent of middle school students say they have also.
The teen birth rate in some Albuquerque Public Schools clusters is more than double the state average.
So how is APS dealing with the issue and what is it doing to help pregnant kids graduate?
“Our goal is to graduate kids with the ability to go on to some type of career, or on to college, so they can be successful,” said Kris Meurer, director of student, family and community support at Albuquerque Public Schools.
The signature APS program is New Futures High School, a school for pregnant and parenting teens. About 200 students – of which four are male – now attend the school. In addition to a regular academic load, the school has child care, provides transportation throughout the district, allows students to breastfeed in class and offers classes in child development and health.
Unlike other schools, New Futures offers a two-week maternity leave and time to make up work.
Not all pregnant or parenting teens choose to attend New Futures, preferring to remain in their own schools.
Albuquerque Public Schools officials do not track how many pregnant or parenting teens attend each high school. There are neighborhoods with high teen birth rates scattered throughout the city.
Highland High School is in the neighborhood with the city’s highest teen birth rate – an average of 122 births a year per 1,000 teen girls. Both Rio Grande and Atrisco Heritage high schools draw from a neighborhood with the second highest rate, at 110 births per 1,000 teen girls.
Two APS schools offer city-run child care: Rio Grande High School and School on Wheels, an alternative, work-study, credit-recovery school.
APS high schools, except Cibola and La Cueva, have a “preschool lab” for 3- to 5-year-olds. Students and employees are given priority, but remaining openings go to the public. Sandia High has a preschool as part of its course on parenting and working with young children.
Students can also visit school-based health centers at three schools: Albuquerque High, Highland High and Rio Grande High. But only about 7 percent of students who visit the health centers visit for family planning, Meurer said.
Nearly half of high school students in Bernalillo County say they’ve had sex.
That’s according to the 2009 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, which found the percent of high school students who say they’ve had sex is around 47 percent.
Peter Winograd, director of the UNM Center for Education Policy Research, compiled data from the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey in 2009 to show where students are most sexually active in Albuquerque. APS is one of the few districts that gets enough student responses to break the data down by school.
The Albuquerque public high school with the highest percent of students who have had sex is Del Norte at 54.4 percent. Rio Grande and Cibola high schools also exceeded 50 percent. (The study did not include charter schools.)
The percent of middle school students in Bernalillo County who say they have had sex is around 11 percent, according to the survey data. Grant Middle School in southeast Albuquerque had the highest percentage of middle-schoolers who have had sexual intercourse with 17.4 percent.
“The issue we’re raising here is it appears to us there’s lots of middle school students who are having sexual intercourse and high school students who are having sexual intercourse,” Winograd said. “And we have a very high teen birth rate here in Albuquerque.”
Whether schools should be able to distribute contraception is a controversial topic. APS employees cannot distribute contraceptives. That policy does not apply to the staff at school-based health centers, but the program staff said in the past they do not dispense birth control or condoms. They can write prescriptions or make referrals to a different doctor.
— This article appeared on page A8 of the Albuquerque Journal