Teen pregnancy

Knowledge, activities help Blount Health Educators teach danger, change behaviors

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By Tony Karnowski
For Blount Today

As little as eight years ago, Blount County was facing a potential disaster. More than 17 percent of all girls between the ages of 10 and 17 were becoming pregnant. This staggering figure was higher than the state rate and was enough to fuel the concerns of many members of the community.

The Blount Health Educators, formerly known as Blount Nurses for Heath Education, decided something had to be done. Teamed with the Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems, the Blount Health Educators (BHE) now bring hope in the form of enlightenment. Using a program dubbed "Why kNOw," a Tennessee Department of Health and Board of Education approved curriculum, the BHE are teaching seventh, eighth and ninth grade students the dangers and consequences of premarital sexual intercourse.

"One of our goals is to educate and inspire our community on the need for abstinence until marriage," says Sandi Hodges,
founder and executive director of the BHE. A goal that she hopes will help the rates of teen pregnancy and STDs drop.

Since instituting the program almost nine years ago, those high levels of teen pregnancy have dropped. In 1997, the county health assessment showed pregnancy rates as high as 17.7 percent in girls between the ages of 10 and 17. This average was .2 percent higher than that of the state. However, by 2004 the Blount County average had dropped to 8.7
percent, while the state remained above the 10 percent mark, hovering at around 13.2 percent.

"Seven out of 10 teenage girls drop out of school annually and don’t finish their high school education until almost 30 years of age," Hodges says. This leaves them and their child living below the poverty levels. "Since we began our program along with our Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force and other concerned professionals and agencies, we have seen our teen pregnancy rates consistently decline," she said.

But the BHE aren’t just visiting classrooms. While the presentations offered by individuals such as Kevin Rogers and Hope Bruce certainly help to introduce the children to key concepts that can help them make better decisions regarding sexual activity, the BHE realized that the children need hands-on activities to help the message truly stick. Thus the concept of a yearly poster/slogan contest was developed.

Each year the BHE invites all middle school-aged children to create an original poster and slogan that helps teach their peers about the dangers of premarital sex. "We are looking for a positive slogan that is meaningful to the youth of our community," Hodges says. "Encouraging the younger members of our community to become involved in the research, development and promotion of messages related to teen pregnancy is important for peer to peer education." In addition, they hope that the use of the posters in a highly visible, countywide education campaign will lend importance to the contest.

"By involving teens in activities like the poster/slogan contest," Hodges says, "we are raising awareness in our community about teen pregnancy and promoting abstinence until marriage as the accepted behavior for our children."

But the contest isn’t just about education. The children that come up with the best posters will be rewarded not just with a feeling of accomplishment, but with prizes as well. The first, second and third place winners will receive a prize for themselves and the school system they attend.

The deadline for the poster contest is March 1, and the prizes will be awarded on March 9. Entries can be delivered to the Blount County School Family Resource Center Office, the Blount Health Educator’s office or by contacting Sandi Hodges at 865-681-4314. Entry forms can be obtained at area school offices or at the Blount Health Educators Office at 356 Sanderson Street, Alcoa, 37701. For more information about the poster contest, you can visit the Blount Health Educator’s website at: www.blountheatlheducatorsinc.com.

Activities like the poster contest and the classroom presentations can only happen with the support of the community, say organizers. The Blount Health Educators is a non-profit, community-based educational program that obtains funding through fundraising events, private donations, church budget gifts, foundations, and a matching grant from the Tennessee Department of Health which will end June 30.

Each year the group hosts a fund-raising banquet where members of the community are invited to come and learn more about the Blount Health Educators and their goals.

This year’s banquet will be hosted at the Airport Hilton on Thursday Feb. 22, and will feature Dr. Kim Collins, OB for the Women’s Care Group and board chair for Blount Health Educators, as speaker.

There will also be a silent auction prior to the banquet, starting at 5:30 and running until dinner is served at 6:30 pm. There is no charge to attend the dinner, though reservations are required.

To attend, contact the Blount Health Educators at 681-4314 or by contacting Sandi Hodges at: bnhe@aol.com

© 2007 blounttoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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