Thinking it Over, Baby?
Watauga County is the second lowest in the state, which Watauga Healthy Carolinians attributes to the Baby Think it Over curriculum taught to all incoming freshman at the high school.
The statistics released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services list the state pregnancy rate for teens age 15 to 19 at 58.6 per 1,000, a seven percent decrease from 2007.
Watauga County is 16.1 per 1,000. The lowest rate in the state is Orange County at 15.8.
Watauga had the lowest rate in 2007 at 19.5, with Orange County close behind at 19.8. In 2007, there were 57 teen pregnancies in Watauga, as compared to 44 in 2008.
NCDHHS also released statistics on induced abortion, which also declined statewide. There were 4,147 teen abortions in 2008, as compared to 4,435 in 2007. In Watauga County, there were 10 last year, nearly half of the 2007 figure of 18.
According to NCDHHS, teen pregnancy rates have steadily declined since 1991, following a spike in the late 1980s.
In 1996, Appalachian Regional Healthcare Systems and Watauga Healthy Carolinians introduced the Baby Think it Over program at Watauga High School. The program is now a part of the curriculum of the required healthful living course for ninth graders. ARHS purchased 30 computerized dolls on a grant in 1996 and since funded replacements. The dolls cost approximately $500 each.
Students are assigned a doll for one weekend during the school year. The dolls are equipped with a computer chip that records the "baby" care each student provides. The doll cries, requires diaper changes and feeding. The special diapers are equipped with a sensor to monitor changes.
The frequency of diaper changes, length of crying and shaking of the doll are recorded. The data is retrieved when the doll is turned in at the end of the weekend as a part of the student's grade. The doll cries in the middle of the night and the student must determine the reason for crying to ensure a lifelike experience. Students are also issued diaper bags and car seats for the dolls.
Bryan Belcher, manager of Watauga Healthy Carolinians, said the community, parent and school authorities' support of program have significantly aided the success of Baby Think it Over.
Currently two parent volunteers, president of the parent/teacher organization Beth Jesel and Judy Goodwin-Rosenberg, distribute the dolls and pick them up on Mondays at the school.
"The kids come in on Monday and can't wait to give the baby back, and that's the idea," Belcher said.
In addition to the dolls, the Baby Think it Over curriculum includes a parental interview with the students' parents to open the lines of communication, a year-long budget of baby care costs. Students must also review classifieds ad in search of a job that would pay for the costs that could be obtained with a ninth-grade education.
Gillian Baker, current marketing vice president for ARHS, worked with Healthy Carolinians at the program's inception. She also spoke of the program's success, but also stressed the community aspects of teen pregnancy prevention.
The community provides programs for teens, such as arts, sports, parks and recreation, religious groups and there is strong parental involvement, she said. All of those factors contribute to low teen pregnancy rates, Baker added.