MUSTARD SEEDS: The ‘irresponsible’ should get blame
Sunday, August 21, 2005
MUSTARD SEEDS Rick Senften Repository special projects editor
This may seem impossible to you, but it’s true.
Sixty-five — again, 65 — of Timken High School’s 490 girl students are pregnant.
That’s a number confirmed by Principal Kim Redmond, whose staff, in less than a week, will inherit a problem it had no part in causing.
Whose fault is it that more than 13 percent of Timken’s girls are with child? Some would say fault-finding isn’t a fruitful exercise, but in this case, it’s critical. Suspects range from movies, TV and video games to lazy parents and lax discipline. Only one thing is sure: Schools don’t impregnate children.
“This has gotten to horrible proportions,” said Redmond. “I wish I knew the answer to why it’s happening.”
She’s not the only one who should wonder. McKinley High’s numbers aren’t rosy, either, and its culture is just as ripe for trouble. I recall a day there last spring, while waiting for an English class to let out, that a roomful of kids lauded a boy, no more than 16 or 17, for having become a “dad” the night before. A paper on the kid’s desk suggested he might struggle to spell that word.
According to the Canton Health Department, through July, 104 of 586 babies born to Canton residents in Aultman Hospital and Mercy Medical Center — the county’s largest hospitals — had mothers between 11 and 19. That’s nearly 18 percent, or three times the total number of babies born at the same hospitals to teen parents living elsewhere in Stark County and beyond.
These numbers are not aberrations.
The non-Canton rate the year before was 7 percent; Canton’s was 15. In 2003, the non-Canton rate was 7 percent and the city’s 18, and in 2002, the county’s rate was 8.5 percent and the city’s just under 17.
Some might argue that the non-Canton rate is also too high, and, indeed, it may seem especially so as the rest of the nation is enjoying a 10th year of decline in teen pregnancy. But Canton City Schools would take Stark County’s rate in a heartbeat.
A lot of factors enter into a school district’s ability to succeed, but none is more important than home environment. Even smart kids struggle when their parents don’t establish expectations for academic achievement and responsible behavior. Teen moms will, in time, almost surely fill this lethargic parenting description, their pregnancies evidence of faulty priorities.
What chance does a pregnant girl have to meet education goals when she finds herself focusing on everything from peer attention to morning sickness, misses classes regularly and, finally, is on maternity leave? Many never return to school. If they do, they’re far behind.
At home, they face mounting tensions created by the unplanned child-rearing responsibilities they’ve left with their own parents or grandparents. This persuades some to quit, and to plan on a GED. Sometimes that plan is realized; often it’s not.
Not surprisingly, few get to college, educators say.
Boys don’t get caught in this net the same way girls do, unless they try to be responsible. If they do, they slow their own educational progress and limit themselves occupationally. If they don’t, they often cause more problems for more girls. And they go virtually unchecked; getting a girl pregnant and ignoring responsibility isn’t treated as a crime.
One clear sign of the problem shows up in such measurements as the state’s Academic Watch designation, which the Canton City School District has been unable to shake. Low grades, low attendance, low graduation — these are aggravated by a growing population of people who can’t afford to pay to improve the educational environment.
“Once again, the schools can’t do it all,” Redmond said. “Once again, we’re being asked to.”
And once again they’ll try. Timken, for instance, will roll out a three-pronged program addressing pregnancy, prevention and parenting. Redmond isn’t saying exactly how the program will work — how it will compare to other such courses that have disappeared in recent times — but the goal will be to keep all students focused on their futures.
A focus on the future is, by definition, the role of schools. But it’s far-fetched to argue they should be held accountable for all the hurdles strewn before that goal. They need help, and they need it fast from people who, to date, have been unwilling to recognize their responsibilities.