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Ginnie Graham: Teen pregnancy prevention part of larger life-skills program

Ginnie Graham: Teen pregnancy prevention part of larger life-skills program

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It was a day 11-year-old Trinity Churchill believes put her on the path to maturity.

Last week, the Union sixth-grader was among 110 in her class to start a savings account with $75 earned by going to and participating in class.

"I finally feel like I am as old as I am," she said. "I've been saving in my piggybank. I didn't know I could go and do this. I couldn't do it by myself."

The class is called Job Club.

It's part of the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, which is in its third year at Union Public Schools.

There is a straight line between teaching preteens about money and stemming teen births.

When a 13-year-old has a goal to buy an item or save for a specific college, showing how a baby disrupts those plans makes a difference.

Carrera — an evidence-based program — approaches the issue by viewing sex as just a sliver of a larger life-skills program.

It's not just birds and bees.

It's about planning for careers, understanding money, having negotiation skills, gaining self-esteem and setting a path for attainable goals.

Trinity said the program helped her deal with bullies.

"I've been bullied my whole life," she said. "It's a lot easier now. I don't feel like someone has to hold my hand all the time. I can depend on myself."

She said the once-a-week lesson about biology in family life is "a big part of it for girls."

The class teaches what to expect during puberty in themselves and in the opposite sex and how to handle peer-pressure situations.

Teenagers need more than the mantra, "Just say no."

"It teaches me not to get started too early," Trinity said. "Carrera is really fun, and you learn about life, how to get ready for life and be prepared when life happens."

Lagging behind: Oklahoma has to get serious about reducing teen pregnancy, now at No. 4 in the U.S.

The state has long maintained a top-five ranking.

It cost Tulsa County about $38 million in spending associated with teen childbearing, with 1,529 births.

Statewide, the economic impact is about $190 million.

Tulsa is getting serious with last month's launch of the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Nationally, there are celebrations as some programs are proving effective.

Teen births in the U.S. hit a peak in 1991 and have declined 50 percent through 2010.

The savings is about $12 billion, according to an analysis by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

But Oklahoma cannot yet take a victory lap.

The state improved its rate by 18 percent between 2007 and 2011.

That is not on pace with the rest of the country, which improved by 25 percent during that time.

Topping the list is Arkansas, followed by Mississippi, New Mexico and Oklahoma, which has a rate of 47.8 teen births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.

Historically, schools districts and nonprofits seeking to include a sex-education program have been thwarted by pushback in favor of abstinence-only messages.

Oklahoma is the only state to not require comprehensive health education, which would include sex education.

Focus on the future: The tide is finally turning as doctors, business leaders, community activists and educators advocate for proven sex education programs.

Union was among the first districts to implement a teen pregnancy prevention program.

Carrera is not a cheap program because of its holistic approach, and grants pay for a significant chunk of its cost.

The program is an elective for students in the sixth grade, and they stay enrolled through their senior year.

Amanda Aunko is a Job Club coordinator along with Chris McNeil, and both have business degrees.

She said Carrera students could save up to $800 by their senior year.

"We are trying to empower youth," Aunko said. "We can't make decisions for them, but we can educate them on their choices and options."

By starting saving accounts, students see how goal-setting works, and self-esteem is built by giving them decision-making power.

"We are able to use financial planning to bring our lessons home," Aunko said.

McNeil said Job Club often brings out an entrepreneurial spirit.

"They can see how $75 can turn into $175," he said.

Trinity plans to use her money for college, where she is leaning toward veterinary medicine.

"College is one of my priorities," she said. "This is a life-learning program. You are learning about what you can do with your future."

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