Teen Pregnancy is the Main Reason Girls Drop Out of School. Let’s Change This.

Written by

Terri Wright
Terri Wright Terri D. Wright is the director of the newly established Center for School, Health & Education Division of Public Health Policy and Practice at the American Public Health Association. She will provide leadership to the strategic development and integration of public health in school-based health care and education. She recently retired from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, MI where she served for 12 years as a program director for health policy. In that capacity Terri developed and reviewed the Foundation’s health programming priorities and initiatives, evaluated and recommended proposals for funding, and administered projects and initiatives. She also assisted in public policy analysis and related policy program development, as well as provided leadership to the Foundation’s school-based health care policy program. Previously, Terri was maternal and child health director and bureau chief for Child and Family Services at the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing, Michigan. In that role, she managed policy, programs and resources with the goal of reducing preventable maternal, infant, and child morbidity and mortality through policy and programming. She received her bachelor’s degree in community and school health, as well as her New York State certification in secondary school education from the City University of New York and her master’s of public health degree in health planning and administration from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is currently a doctoral student in public health at the University of Michigan. Terri takes an active leadership role in several professional associations and community organizations including the American Public Health Association and the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities.

One in three teenage girls who have dropped out of high school give pregnancy or parenthood as the key reason. Once they leave, only half of them complete their high school education by age 22, compared with 90 percent of their non-parenting peers.

Girls who drop out are more likely to face economic, educational and health challenges. Research indicates that completing high school in four years increases the likelihood of practicing healthy behaviors, experiencing better health, living longer, and reducing the incidence of mortality and sickness in offspring. 

To help girls stay in school, graduate, and create a successful life path, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently released guidelines to help schools better support pregnant and parenting students. Secretary Duncan reminds schools that under Title IX, they may not use gender to exclude any student from participation in education programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance. In the case of teen pregnancy, this mandate means that pregnancy-related absences must be excused, and a parenting student must be given an appropriate space to breastfeed, for example.

School-based health centers are important partners in helping schools implement these guidelines, and in preventing future teen pregnancy. Because they are onsite with a trusted, multi-disciplinary staff, these centers are well positioned to identify barriers to graduation and help students manage challenges. School-based health centers teach strategies for managing stresses that can get in the way of learning. They serve as a safe haven for students, fostering a culture of caring in the school and helping to remove gender-based barriers to school engagement, connectedness, and attendance – thus paving the way to graduation.

Because they are trusted resources in the school, school-based health centers offer a safe place for students to receive support and medical care, services often out of reach for many students. Providing health care right at the school greatly reduces the obstacles many teen moms face, such as getting transportation to a doctor’s appointment, affording health care, or even knowing where to go for safe, private and medically accurate information.

School-based health centers also work at the front edge of this crisis by giving students the necessary information and resources to postpone sex or prevent unintended pregnancies. This is often done at the urging of students, and with the collaboration of students, parents, teachers and community organizations.

Innovative approaches like this are needed in every community to address a significant—and preventable—barrier to girls’ academic success as well as their health and well-being. School-based health centers take a comprehensive public health approach to developing and implementing prevention programs that run deeper than health services. They work directly with student groups, teachers and staff to gauge school-wide trends and address the specific needs of the students. In addition, some school-based health centers go beyond pregnancy prevention and sexual health services and also coordinate in-school childcare, parenting education and case management services.

The Center for School, Health and Education at the American Public Health Association advances school-based health care as a proven strategy for preventing school dropout. Through partnerships, policies and advocacy, the Center supports all students—particularly those facing social inequities—to graduate.

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