MARSHALL CO, Ky -
The lessons teens are learning about preventing unwanted pregnancies are sinking in. H.O.P.E. Clinic Executive Director Lisa Holland said, "They're gonna have a better future, and you're just a small part of that."
Educators, health professionals, politicians, and parents all said they are excited about new numbers showing teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates are dropping. They hit record highs in the late 80s and early 90s, but now researchers say fewer teens are becoming pregnant now than at any other time since they started tracking this kind of information.
The teen pregnancy rate dropped 51 percent between 1990 and 2010. During that same time period, teen birth rates fell by 44 percent, and the teen abortion rate saw the sharpest decline at 66 percent in ten years. The non-profit organization behind this research attributes the decline to education and access to contraception.
"We start with a foundation in our 5th grade," said Kem Cothran. She is the Secondary Supervisor of Instruction with The Marshall County Board of Education. Students there start learning about their bodies as early as elementary school. Once they hit the pre-teen years, "Body image and self-esteem starts in the 6th grade," said Cothran.
When students make it to the high school level, they've already learned a lot about making smart and safe sexual choices. Cothran said, "We bridge that gap between middle and high and say to those high school students, 'We are still here teaching helping and hoping you make those responsible decisions that affect the rest if your life.'"
The curriculum from H.O.P.E Clinic covers Kentucky Core standards and emphasizes abstinence. Holland said, "We try to get them to look ahead and to understand the decisions they're making now are going to affect their future in a big way." Holland said she's seen the difference removing the taboo of talking about sex in school can make. "I think overall the rates are coming down, because I think more of these kids are being educated. They're thinking about the future. I'm hoping the parents are talking to the kids more."
It's a community-wide effort that's keeping more students from becoming statistics. Cothran said, "The more we reduce those numbers, the better lifestyles our students have."
The Marshall County Health Department also comes into the schools there. Their curriculum does cover some aspects of contraception and safe options for teens who are sexually active. On top of that, there are free condoms at the health department, no questions asked. They also offer family planning and counseling services with a registered nurse.
H.O.P.E Clinic can actually do pregnancy tests there and even early ultra sounds for free. Aside from abstinence education, their goal is to give pregnant women all the information they need to make educated decisions about their futures.
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