By Laura Katauskas | Bugle Staff
The ramifications of teen pregnancy can set a devastating turn of events for many faced with decisions that may be out of their control.
Based on reports that show in Bolingbrook alone, there were nearly 65 teen pregnancies in one year and a staggering rate of STDs, the Will County Health Department reached out to Valley View School School District to pilot a new program for prevention thanks to a state grant.
The groups are pairing together to launch a five-year health education partnership targeting teen pregnancy prevention.
“We are always wanting to work on preventive ways to ensure that students complete high school with success,” said Carie Johnstone, assistant executive director of support services. “Research shows that teen parents face many obstacles in terms of social, emotional, financial, and academic pressures and post-secondary secured options and completion.”
The program is made possible by federal funding secured through a more than $1 million Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) grant. The IDHS grants place a high priority on communities with high rates of teen births in African American and Hispanic populations, as well as high STI rates. According to the WCHD, there were a total of 394 Will County teen births during 2013. Across Illinois, nearly 30 of every 1,000 live births were in the 15 to 19 age group.
Vic Reato of the WCHD, said Bolingbrook, one of 10 Illinois communities, was chosen in part for its outstanding community spirit and support for health-related initiatives.
“We know teen pregnancy is a pressing issue statewide and across the nation,” said Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar, who has given his blessing to the collaboration by offering office space to help the grantees manage their new five-year commitment. “We need to provide our young people with the information they need to make responsible decisions. This grant will provide an effective, evidence-based resource to help us educate our youth.”
In the fall of 2016, Valley View School District will launch the pilot program in health classes at Bolingbrook High School, Humphrey Middle School and Phoenix Experience with expansion to Jane Addams and Brooks middle schools shortly afterward. Once funding sources are determined, Romeoville schools, including Lukancic and Martinez middle schools and Romeoville High School, may be added.
The program will include specially-trained Will County Health Educators and VVSD teachers who will roll out a specially-designed curriculum endorsed by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The addition of WCHD Educators to talk to students will be helpful due to the training that they have received,” said Johnstone. “Also, our teachers will receive additional training on how to use the curriculum and talk to teens about sex. The grant will also cover new curriculum that is designed to resonate with teens but also puts emphasis on making decisions and learning how to honor their decisions.”
According to Johnstone, currently high-school level students are given a comprehensive curriculum about sex, contraception and STDs. At the middle school level students were given a curriculum that was abstinence-based, however that has changed since a new Illinois State Board of Education mandate passed in October 2015. The mandate now requires schools that teach sex education in any grades 6 through 12 to include instruction in both abstinence and contraception, and to teach with materials that are evidence-based and medically accurate.
While grant details are still in the planning stage, the health department and VVSD are required to establish a resource guide providing links and referrals to a vast network of organizations that provide high-quality, youth-friendly health care services for youth participants and their families.
An aggressive social media campaign is planned to help spread the teen pregnancy and STI prevention message.
Johnstone said VVSD is now working with the health department to set training dates for teachers and the clinicians who will be co-teaching.
Grant requirements also call for the establishment of a community youth leadership council and a community advisory group to provide feedback on a wide range of project details.
Other communities receiving grants include: Addison, Aurora, Carpentersville, Dolton, Elmwood Park, Glendale Heights, Hanover Park and Wheeling. Alton (Madison County), was the only down-state grant recipient.