A new school curriculum has helped South Carolina and Beaufort County reduce teen pregnancy, but the problem is far from solved, state and local advocates say.
Fewer teens gave birth in Beaufort County for the second consecutive year -- 176 in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, compared to 196 in 2010. The county's birth rate also fell, from 43.2 births per 1,000 among those ages 15 to 19 in 2010 to 40.4 in 2011, according to data released Jan. 8 by the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
"The school district should be commended for ... implementing evidence-based programs proven to work to prevent teen pregnancies and STDs in young people," said Kathryn E. Zenger, research analyst for the New Morning Foundation, a Columbia-based family-planing advocacy group.
South Carolina's teen birth rate fell for the fourth consecutive year, reaching an all-time low of 39.1 births per 1,000 among ages 15 to 19. However, South Carolina still ranks 11th in teen birth rates among the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to the data.
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Forrest Alton, CEO of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said reducing teen pregnancy is a "marathon, not a sprint."
"But it's important to remember school-based sex education is an absolutely essential component of prevention," Alton said. "And Beaufort County is in the top tier of school districts in terms of delivering age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education in the school system, which suggests over the long-term it will see big reductions in the teen pregnancy rate in Beaufort County."
The district was given $780,000 in federal grants in 2011 to support pregnancy prevention at middle and high schools. The money is part of the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy's five-year plan to help standardize sex education across the district.
Seventh- and eighth-graders are now taught through a program called "It's Your Game, Keep it Real!" that emphasizes abstinence. High school students participate in the Safer Choices program, which teaches that abstinence is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. It also emphasizes contraception for reducing these risks for students who decide to have sex, said Casey Newsome, the district's comprehensive health coordinator.
Teachers are working with the University of South Carolina to gauge the curriculum's effectiveness and surveying students before and after the program to see if their behavior has changed, Newsome said. The curriculum has proven to delay sex among teens at other schools in the country, mainly in Texas, according to the district.
The New Morning Foundation released a report last week indicating a majority of the state's school districts are not in compliance with a 1988 S.C. law when it comes to teaching reproductive health.
The Beaufort County district complied with five out of six categories for sexual health education, according to the report. The one area where the district was not compliant was teaching middle school students about STD and HIV prevention, according to the foundation. The report, though, was compiled before the district implemented its new curriculum, Zenger said.
S.C. law requires sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to learn about STD and HIV prevention.