WXXI Local Stories
4:44 pm
Wed December 23, 2009

The Facts of Life: Sexual Behavior and Learning

Rochester, NY – A student's well-being has a big impact on classroom success, no matter where that student goes to school. But public health problems in Rochester City schools are so widespread, the district is finding it very difficult to teach a large percentage of its students. More and more resources are being devoted to non-academic interventions.

One of those challenges is teen births and pregnancies. Rochester has one of the highest teen birth rates of pregnant girls between the ages of 15 and 19, according to Metro Council for Teen Potential.

Danyelle Crutcher is a young mother of two. "You want to hold the baby, you want to hold her?" she says. "Come on let's go sit down."

Her daughters are cuddling up together on the couch in their small apartment off St. Paul Blvd. "This is NehVayah, she's two months," adds Crutcher. "And this is NyAsia she's two years old."

Danyelle was just fourteen when she became pregnant with NyAsia, who doesn't seem to mind sharing her tiny bedroom with a new baby.

"She tries to feed her and change her diaper," Crutcher says. "She just tries cause she sees what I do...just tries to take care of her." Danyelle is one of a growing number of Rochester students having babies -- and that number is not a small one.

"We have some zip codes in the City of Rochester that have the highest per capita teen pregnancy rates in the country," says Kim Urbach, a URMC nurse practitioner who works with young mothers in the city school district. " [and] some of our zip codes."

The numbers are staggering. In 2007 alone, 656 babies were born to teenagers in the City of Rochester. She often shows visitors a bar graph displaying teen pregnancy rates around the world.

"It's amazing," says Urbach. "The U.S. has double, triple the rate of teen pregnancies of some other countries, and then Rochester sticks out beyond that even."

In some circles, teen sex is now the norm according to Porshia Sheppard, an East High School student. "I didn't want to be the only one out of everybody I hung with still a virgin, sitting around wondering what this word was, why they saying that?" explains Sheppard. "And I'm really, like, looking at them and saying okay, I should try that."

Porshia says she really didn't think about getting pregnant, but she tried using a birth control patch when she started having sex at 16. It gave her acne, so she stopped. She decided against a contraceptive injection too. "My cousin got fat over it," Sheppard says. "And I didn't want to gain too much weight, so I didn't do no more birth control."

Porshia is expecting her first baby any day now.

The school district has been working with community organizations to put together programs and support systems to keep these girls from dropping out, when they realize how much work, and money, is involved in raising a child. But nurse practitioner Urbach says there's an even bigger problem lurking a few years down the line.

"All those children being raised by children show up in the city school district classrooms," Urbach says. "And we know there's no doubt about it, the research is very clear on outcomes for children being born to teen parents, and they are just poor outcomes in general."

Babies born to teens are more likely to have low birth weights and developmental delays, they are more likely to use drugs or go to jail, and they are more likely to become teenage parents themselves. In fact, many of today's teen mothers were born during a spike in area teen pregnancies about 15 to 20 years ago.

"A developmentally immature parent is less likely to be reading to the baby, singing to the baby, interacting with the baby, as mother to child," says Urbach. " Versus more of a sibling relationship."

No matter how loving teenage girls are toward their babies, says Urbach, they are just girls.

In addition to the growing number of pregnant teenagers, school officials are also seeing another more and more children showing up in the school based health centers with sexually transmitted infections. In fact, Rochester has some of the highest sexually transmitted infection rates in the state.