AMARILLO, TX - Right now Potter County has the 48th highest teen pregnancy rate in Texas out of all 254 counties. The state as a whole, ranks third in the nation behind New Mexico and Mississippi.
Wednesday Amarillo organizations met to discuss ways to lower that ranking. School counselors, parents, community leaders, and health officials packed the United Way's conference room to have a discussion many say is not had enough in Amarillo. "I think people just don't realize home many girls we have in our community that are pregnant at early ages," said Tascosa High School counselor Brandy Bishop.
Right now Amarillo Independent School District has 54 pregnant girls enrolled in school. There aren't as many in Canyon, but Randall High senior Kelli Blashill pretended to be one for a week as a social experiment for her school newspaper. Blashill was the guest speaker at Wednesday's Teen Pregnancy Coalition Luncheon with the United Way. "I learned a lot about myself, and I guess, snap judgments that people make," Blashill said.
As an active honor-student and drum major, Blashill says she was unprepared for the bullying and gossip she met walking the halls with her belly. With so many young girls pregnant for real, she believes the community needs to step up and start supporting instead of chastising. "It's not always your job to judge," she said.
Amarillo ISD's "Worth the Wait" program starts teaching students about anatomy and puberty in their sixth grade science and biology classes. "Age of debut, which means the age a child becomes sexually active, right now the average is around 12 years old," Executive Director Amy Christie said.
Christie says safe sex practices and sexually transmitted disease education start in the 8th grade, and surveys show it's been effective. "Our 8th grade sexual activity has gone down 30 percent in the last four years," she said. But on the down side... "Our seventh graders have debuted sexual activity the most that we've seen in the six years I've worked here," she said.
Christie says though "Worth the Wait" is mainly an abstinence program, they work with Baylor University to tailor their curriculum to what works best. As for Blashill, she says education is key to keeping her peers baby-bump free. "I think it should really be taught by our parents, but that's why they brought in sex education originally. Because our parents are failing with that," she said. "I wish there was a way they could make it family centered and not class centered."
Potter County has the fifth highest rate of chlamydia and sixth highest rate of gonorrhea in Texas. Those stats include adults and teens, but Christie says STD's are a growing problem in teens in the panhandle.