Battling Teen Pregnancy with Education

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When Phil Bryant became governor in January 2012, he made a clear point about what he calls a problem across the state.

"Teen pregnancy in Mississippi must be reduced if we are to reach our full potential," said Bryant.

Fast forward eight months and Bryant says it's happening. Through the Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi initiative, Sen. Sally Doty says community level involvement is helping to lead the charge.

"It is very important to bring everyone together from the faith-based community, education community and from community based organizations because this is something we've all got to work on together," Doty said.

With the state leading the nation in teen birth rates, community meetings like the one in downtown Jackson Friday are becoming a point of change. The initiative is using teens in schools across the state as advocates.

"You can imagine the peer pressure they're receiving when they go in and say we want you to live a healthy lifestyle," said Bryant. "But they are making a difference."

Two of those teens are Neshoba Central High School seniors Kodi Wright and Alisha Sifuentes. They're chair and co-chair of the youth and youth leaders subcommittee.

"It's not worth losing your childhood or your youth over," Sifuentes said.

Sifuentes knows first hand the challenges of being a teen mom. That's because she became one at age 15.

"I don't want other students and teenagers to go through what I have to go through so it's very important for me to raise awareness," she said.

Wright was born to a teenage mother and says it's not a path teenagers should take.

Wright says, "It seems like you go into school and you hear people saying 'how many weeks along are you, how far along are you?' When really we should be saying 'how many weeks to graduation, how many weeks to prom?'"

By increasing awareness in youth, state leaders hope the rest of the state will pay attention.

"A teen that goes through the challenges of having a child is less likely to graduate from school, less likely to get a job, more likely to be on some government program and we've just got to change those numbers," said the governor.

"It is not necessarily a black problem or a white problem or a poor person's problem," said Doty. "It's is everyone's problem because you see it in all of those groups."

Additional community meetings are set to take place across the state through next spring.