RACINE — Emilee Lockhart was voted the “most changed” person in Park High School’s class of 2013.
And it wasn’t only because she was seven months pregnant at graduation.
In that, she was among hundreds of students in the Racine Unified School District who face the prospect of becoming parents before senior prom.
While the reported number of pregnant or parenting Unified students has gone down in recent years, leaders of local organizations say teen pregnancy is a continuing issue with no simple solution.
Fewer pregnant students
The total number of Unified students who are parents has been dropping slowly, from 210 in 2010-11 to 177 in 2014-15. Those numbers are based on the students who notify Racine Unified that they are pregnant or parenting.
That mirrors a decline in births to high school students nationwide, according to Susan Stroupe, director of health services for the district.
While she said she feels encouraged that the numbers are decreasing, it will be difficult to completely eliminate teen pregnancy.
“You have to continue the effort,” Stroupe said. “We can’t just say, ‘Gee, what a great job we’ve done and we can move on.’ You have to make the commitment to the fact that there’s not going to be an easy fix.”
Diane Graebner, a nurse at Racine Unified, said planning for a goal — whether that’s graduating from high school, going to college or buying a car — has helped parenting teens prevent future pregnancy and make it through high school.
Last year, both classes for parenting teens in a program run through the district latched onto a discussion about making good choices for future goals. She hopes that a new presentation being added this year to regular health classes will have the same impact on students.
“Both groups at the end had said, ‘Maybe if I had this program before I had gotten pregnant, I may not have gotten pregnant,’ and that’s coming from them,” Graebner said.
Beyond the schools
Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the City of Racine’s public health administrator, said she believes young adults need to learn about sex education from educators and parents, guardians or other adults in their lives.
However, based on some patients’ visits to the city’s STD/HIV clinic, some adults do not have a full understanding of some of the risks of sexual relations, Bowersox said.
“For us, there are a lot of individuals that we see that have limited knowledge and limited understanding of how their body works,” Bowersox said.
Karen Dotson, program administrator for the Greater Racine Collaborative for Healthy Birth Outcomes, and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s Director of Community Education Meghan Benson agree that young adults need to feel comfortable talking about healthy sexual relationships with the people that influence their lives: family, friends, teachers and leaders from outside school activities.
Dotson said she is trying to get more of Racine’s religious leaders involved in the conversation, even if they prefer that teenagers abstain from sex.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has underage clients who come into one of their health centers for routine health care without informing their parents, Benson said. But unless they fear being punished or abused, Benson said she believes most of these clients would be able to have conversations about healthy sexual relationships with their parents.
“Sometimes just saying, ‘This is a challenging conversation to have, but it’s really important because I want you to be safe and healthy’ is a really good way to start that,” Benson said.
For Lockhart, it was talking about her pregnancy that led her to want a job as a nurse, helping those who are just as uncertain as she was in high school.
While she was in school, Lockhart met with a counselor about once a month to talk about her questions and worries, such as what going into labor would be like.
The counselor from Park once brought in a lactation consultant, which inspired Lockhart to breastfeed her son. The support from her family and Bible study group kept her accountable when she felt discouraged or depressed from the drastic changes in her life.
At the start of her senior year, Lockhart wanted to leave Racine behind and become a performer. After her son Cameron was born, she sought a nurse’s stable income, and the knowledge to keep her son happy and healthy.
“Seeing him smile, you look back and know it’s all for a purpose,” Lockhart said.