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State Turns to Community Engagement to Fight Teen Pregnancy

By Daniel Cherry | Published 28 Sep 2012 05:38pm | comments
Mississippi's teen pregnancy rate is the highest in the nation. Statistically, children of teen parents are less likely to graduate high school and find jobs...they're more likely to live in poverty and end up in prisons. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports on the state's effort to tackle Mississippi's teen pregnancy crisis.
 
Mississippi reported 55 births per 100 thousand teens ages 15 to 19 in 2010. That's 60 percent higher than the national average. Ashley Sifuentes, a 17 year old senior at Neshoba Central High School, became pregnant at age 15.
 
"My friends say, 'We should be picking out prom dresses and not baby names. Instead of worrying about a baby, we should be counting down the weeks of prom and graduation.' You can't just go out and have fun, and those responsibilities first before fun."
 
Governor Phil Bryant called for the creation of a teen pregnancy task force to come up with solutions to the problem. Senator Sally Doty, of Brookhaven, is the state and local action committee chair of the task force. She's reaching out to Mississippians for answers.
 
"We thought the best way to do that was to pick different parts of the state and really gather resources. See what is already being done in those areas and bring in other community leaders to talk about what problems exist in those areas."
 
Leaders say, the state took a big step by allowing abstinence plus to be taught in Mississippi schools. Governor Bryant says decreasing the pregnancy rate will lead to a healthier population and better workforce.
 
"Healthier teens and get a workforce. Graduation rates will increase, the ability for them to get a good, high-tech, high-paying job will increase. What we want them to do is live the American dream. Get out of school, go to college, learn a skill..."
 
Bryant says the goal is to decrease Mississippi's teen pregnancy rate by 15 percent by the year 2017. 

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