By Emily Ballard and Shannon Findley
Three hundred — the number of Waco ISD students who participated in the district’s Pregnancy Education and Parenting program during the past year.
Waco ISD’s high teen pregnancy and parenting rate, approximately 300 in the past year, reflects the state of Texas’ teen pregnancy rate, 43,335, which is the third highest in the country, behind New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Adolescent Health.
However, Waco ISD had no pregnancy-related dropouts in the past year, according to Julie Coston, a social worker for University High School in Waco ISD. To address the teen pregnancy issue, Waco ISD offers a mentorship program in Waco high schools to ensure the success of teen mothers and fathers as students and as parents.
Coston’s social work and pastoring background prepared her to lead University High School’s PEP program. She offers regular mentoring sessions to both expecting mothers and fathers and helps these students navigate the Medicaid system and attends to transportation and childcare services.
“Our main goal is to give them a support system,” Coston said.
She also said that expecting mothers and fathers are not required to participate in the program but they are welcome to come to Coston with questions and concerns.
“Some of them I call into my office and ask, ‘what’s going on with your grades? Where have you been the past 400 days?’” Coston said, humorously.
PEP also offers home delivery of assignments by homebound teachers who pick up the assignments, as well. This enables the girls to keep up with their work and even get ahead in school.
“We help them graduate early if possible, depending on their credits,” Coston said.
Becoming pregnant in high school can be taxing on young girls and the fathers of their babies.
“I think they are just overwhelmed,” Coston said. “We do a lot of encouraging.”
Once the pregnant girls reach a point in their pregnancies that require them to stay home, the PEP program has an Through the Passport to Success program, an extension of the PEP program, girls have the opportunity to earn diapers and other needs serves as an incentive for getting good grades and participating in mentoring group discussions. Along with the PEP program every April, Waco ISD hosts an Adolescent Parenting Workshop, lead by Dr. Margaret Baier assistant professor of family consumer science department, and her parenting class.
“This isn’t just about the mothers,” Baier said. “Fathers are important and we encourage them to learn how they can get involved.”
Expecting fathers receive the same counseling tools as the expecting mothers. Coston explained these young men have a hard time understanding their role in the process when they don’t live with the girlfriend and the baby.
“Unless he talks about it, no one knows that he’s expecting, too,” Coston said.
The workshop includes stations focusing on things such as “Baby-Proofing a Home” or “The Importance of Involving Fathers in Children’s Life.”
“The high school students look forward to these workshops,” Baier said.
Karen Baier, Margaret Baier’s sister-in-law and family consumer science teacher at University High School, has received positive feedback from students who have participated in the workshop.
“I’ve had both guys and girls and most of the time when they come back they’ve loved the interactions they’ve had with the college kids,” Karen Baier said.
Coston also attends the workshops and said, “There was a good connection between Baylor students and our students. I think it’s inspiring.”