Teen Pregnancy Epidemic Hits Memphis High School
By Varion Walton
(MEMPHIS, TN) –It’s a story that’s had tongues wagging for days; 90 girls reportedly pregnant at Frayser High School. Since this story broke school administrators have been filtering calls from everyone from Oprah to Doctor Oz.
90 girls, about one-in five enrolled at Frayser High School, reportedly pregnant or have already given birth. That’s approximately 11 percent of the female student population. Only 800 kids enrolled here.
Frayser is located in the 38127 zip code. A mailing address that is seeing so many “special deliveries” that it has mailed in one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Shelby County, Tennessee alone.
Alarming stats that has the nation focused on the “so called baby making machine” known as Frayser High School. But some people simply refuse to believe that so many girls from one school got pregnant. “When I first heard that it was hard to believe. You’ve got young men and young women there, but I don’t believe there were 90 girls in one year, no I don’t believe that”, proclaimed Robert Adams a Frayser Resident.
One of the reasons people question the number is that it’s reportedly forbidden for a teacher to question a student about what appears to be a baby bump. To do so school officials say would be an invasion of privacy. “My daughter was so little you couldn’t tell she was pregnant. They don’t know who is pregnant and who is pregnant unless they are truly showing,” said Christine Jordan.
Christine Jordan says her daughter Jessica was not only taught abstinence at Frayser High School, but in their home! Unfortunately that strategy didn’t work. Jessica Woodard became pregnant at the end of her sophomore year. “Yes, she has a baby too. I honestly trusted Jessica to do what I asked of her, but when you don’t have anyone here to watch her, what can you do? I’m a single parent and she’s the baby, my youngest daughter and when I work she is here alone,” Jordan explained.
Unfortunately, that’s the same story for many teens in this poverty stricken neighborhood. They have too much time on their hands and no one around to supervise them. The community of Frayser is also plagued with gang violence and unemployment. The lack of economic opportunities lives a lot of struggling mothers like Christine Jordan without fathers around to help pick up the slack. “I’m not the only single parent; you have a lot of single parents trying to do the best they can in this community with what they make with their incomes,” noted Jordan.
The glare of national cameras has brought about a new focus on an old problem. Teen pregnancy has been a plague on this community for years. The pregnancy rate in the City of Memphis is around 15-to 25 percent. That’s twice the national average.
With so many people talking about the embarrassing pregnancy rate at this school, officials and parents fear any newly suspected teen mom won’t come forward, afraid of being labeled Frayser High School’s 91st pregnancy. Folks living in this community are hoping the negative press will stop. “It’s extremely frustrating because you’ve got all these kids dropping out of school. Half of the children their don’t want to go to school anyway and for you to continue to just put a negative spin on the school it impacts those young ladies. Many of the girls including my daughter are angry”, exclaimed Jordon.
Having a baby at such a young age is not the avenue this working mother wanted for her daughter or any of the other girls at the school. But, she thinks the spotlight on this issue might be a wakeup call to everyone! “My daughter didn’t drop out of school. She is still hanging in there trying to finish. She is in the 11th grade and she’s doing great right now and hopefully she will keep her head on straight and not get a second baby,” Jordan said.
School officials trying to pin down the exact number of pregnancies here and they’re working a solution. Right now school and city leaders are teaming up with Girls, Incorporated; a non profit group launching a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the number of teen pregnancies. The organization has strategically placed more than 17 billboards throughout the Frayser community that calls for “no baby” until you are of age.
Christine Jordan says what would really help is for the community to continue to “rally around these young people.” Right now her daughter Jessica and about 70 others attend Frayser’s “Prep Academy”; it’s a school within the school- where discussions of sex education are forbidden however they are given more flexible hours and plenty of tutoring.
The prep academy as designed to get overage students back in the classroom. It’s a board approved program providing these struggling new moms and their boyfriends what they need to finally become high school graduates. “My daughter has a lot of teachers who are trying to help her out. She’s got the support at the school and here at home. A lot of her teachers are helping her out because they know she’s got a baby. It’s all kind of working out because her grades are up and she has a positive attitude.
Something that is in short supply in a community struggling for answers to a lot of life’s questions.