Arizona's teen births 25 percent above national average
Teenage pregnancies cost Arizona $252 million in 2004
Military service was a tradition in Margaret Ordonez’s family.
She wanted to join the Air National Guard after high school to continue this tradition, but when she found out that she was pregnant at the end of her sophomore year, she realized that this dream might not become her reality.
Since the birth of her son Fernando two years ago, Ordonez worked in fast food, but now has a better job in a call center, the 19-year-old said in an interview.
Ordonez is not an unusual case: Teen pregnancies were the reality for 12,537 Arizona girls in 2009, of which 26.6 percent had a previous pregnancy, resulting in 10,820 live births. That set Arizona 25 percent above the latest national average for teenage child births, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
In 2009, 138.2 in 1,000 Arizona teens gave birth, while across the nation, 39.1 in 1,000 teens had babies, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nationally, about three in ten young women become pregnant by age 20, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which has declared May as National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.
“Your life changes completely, especially because you are so young."
A high teen birth rate is nothing new for Arizona.
From 1996 to 2006 Arizona teenagers were an average of 21.5 percent over the national average in childbirths, and after 15-year decline the rate started rising again in 2005, the Department of Health Services reported.
The largest contributors to Arizona’s teen birth rates are Hispanic teens. In 2009 Hispanic teens accounted for 55 percent of all teen pregnancies, although they are 35 percent of the population, according to the Department of Health Services.
While Hispanics have the highest rate of teenage pregnancies, the abortion rate among all Hispanic women is the lowest of all ethnicities tracked by the state DHS.
In Arizona, the 158,000 teen births between 1991 and 2004 cost taxpayers $3.4 billion. In 2004 alone, teenage pregnancies cost Arizona $252 million, but costs don't stop at childbirth, the Arizona Department of Health Services said.
Because of the low level of education most teenage mothers achieve, 80 percent end up receiving government assistance.
Only one-third of teen mothers receive a high school diploma and 1.5 percent of teen mothers have a college degree by the age of 30, according the state health department figures.
In addition, sons of teen mothers are 13 percent more likely to end up in prison, and daughters are 22 percent more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
Nationally, teen childbearing costs taxpayers $9.1 billion annually.
Both schools and parents are at fault for high teenage pregnancies, said Elsa Monteverde, a counselor with Tucson Unified School District's Teenage Parent Alternative Middle/High School.
To lower teenage pregnancy rates, schools have to teach sexual education more aggressively, and parents have to realize that they play a big role in their teen’s sexual education. Solely teaching abstinence, or ignoring the topic won’t keep teens from sexual intercourse, and certainly won’t lower teen pregnancies, she said.
The sexual education program does not suffice to prevent teen pregnancies, Monteverde said.
Arizona’s SB 1309, the Parent’s Bill of Rights, says that parents have to approve the sexual education curriculum, and have to give permission in order for their teen to receive sex ed, Monteverde said.
In Arizona, sexual education is offered from 4th-12th grade, and is focused on abstinence, said Holly Colonna, the director of TUSD’s guidance, counseling and student service/prevention program.
TUSD does not track the how many students take the classes, but very few opt out, Colonna said.
Arizona's sex ed classes are limited. Sex education in K-4th grades are not to exceed the equivalent of one class period per day for four weeks of the school year. Lessons for grades 5-8 are not to exceed the equivalent of one class period per day for nine weeks of the school year. In grades K-8 the classes are a supplement to the health classes, and are taught separately to boys and girls. They are not graded and teachers don't have to require homework, according to TUSD's family life curriculum guidelines.
"Bear in mind that grade five is more about a child understanding his/her own body than it is about actual sex education," Maria Menconi, TUSD's Deputy Superintendent, wrote in an email.
"The same is true through the middle grades, although at that time, students are introduced to conception and birth. This would be true for all students in our district. Abstinence-based curriculum has been in place in (Arizona) since I came here in 1987, I am not sure how long before then abstinence was the default practice," she wrote.
The computer age changed the way sexual education is taught, Colonna said. Children have much more access to information, and rumors about, sexual education, so it is important to teach factual information, she added.
More info might mean better choices
“If I heard someone’s story I would have made different decisions.”
The 7th grade sexual education she received didn’t teach her much, and sex was a subject hardly addressed at home, Ordonez said. “It didn’t do anything because my parents wouldn’t talk about it.”
Current sexual education classes don’t work, and classes showing the consequences of teen pregnancies would work better, she added. “If I heard someone’s story I would have made different decisions.”
Delila Redondo, 21, doesn't even remember any kind of sexual education being taught in her high school, and the sexual education she received in fourth grade focused mostly on STDs and abstinence. The chances of pregnancy were not really talked about, she said.
It was her goal to graduate from high school, making her the first graduate in her family, but when she found out that she was pregnant at 17, she decided to drop out.
Redondo considers herself lucky, because she receives support from her family. Some of her friends do not.
In order to decrease teen pregnancies, educators have to realize that cultural background factors into sexual education, especially in the Hispanic community, which values large families and early motherhood, UA’s Frances McClelland Institute reported.
To lower Latina teen pregnancies, young women need to have a female role model to show them the importance of education and help the teen set goals for herself, according to the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino organization in the U.S.
Ordonez graduated from high school in 2010, and is a student at Pima Community College. She is still pursuing her dream of joining the Air National Guard.
Redondo is working the night shift at Jack in the Box. She said that she wants to get her GED, but working almost full time and having a child makes this hard. Her main motivation for this is so she can move out of her mother’s two-bedroom apartment that eight other people are living in.
“I miss going out with my friends,” Redondo said. “Your life changes completely, especially because you are so young."