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Loss of campus clinic at Oklahoma City school has repercussions beyond student health

Two years ago, state lawmakers passed budget cuts that shuttered a health clinic serving pregnant teens and young mothers at Emerson Alternative High School in northwest Oklahoma City. Advocates say the result is more absences, anxiety about health concerns and a higher number of pregnancies.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: June 13, 2011
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School administrators didn't want the clinic to close, either, said Debra Thomas, Emerson High School's principal from 2001 until last August. She said losing the clinic upset both staff and students.

Thomas said she worries about the consequences.

“We don't want them to have repeat pregnancies,” she said. “Without them having someone on campus that they could go to, that was a health care professional, it may eventually impact those rates of pregnancy.”

Taking responsibility

Taryn English cried when she found out she was pregnant. Her appointment was to begin using birth control.

She dropped out of Western Heights High School and missed nearly a year of school.

The baby's father moved to Ohio, where he's on probation.

Now, at 16, she's a single mom to a 6-month-old named Kaesin. After his birth, she got her act together with the support of her parents. She enrolled at Emerson.

“You have to be responsible for yourself and your kid,” she said.

Part of that responsibility is avoiding another pregnancy.

English said she would love a campus health clinic where she could take her son or get birth control. Instead, she misses class when he needs to see the doctor, and she puts off her own appointments.

Most of the moms are driven to graduate, just like English, science teacher Sandra Bennett said. But many face obstacles in addition to their pregnancies.

Some girls have parents who are locked up. Several are the only responsible ones in their families. Others have learning disabilities and already were academically behind. All of them have spent time out of school to give birth.

Add to that the anxiety teachers and students feel without having a medical expert on campus.

It's another classroom distraction, another setback to graduation, Bennett said.

“You can't teach them, and you can't teach their classmates, until you address the medical issue,” she said.

A medical clinic wouldn't erase all the distractions, she said, but it would give them more time to focus on finishing school.

“Just with a little bit of support here, the girls learn there is a different way, a different world,” Bennett said. “There is a way out through education.”

No money for clinic

District officials aren't opposed to having an on-campus clinic, but the money isn't there, said Sheli McAdoo, director of secondary education and reform for the Oklahoma City School District.

“Schools are moving to try to be everything to all kids, and that creates quite a challenge,” she said.

“It is important and, at any point in time, the community can step up and come forward with opportunities to serve in that capacity.”

So that leaves Fuller, the Head Start family advocate, and the school's teachers and volunteers battling to prevent repeat pregnancies.

Fuller pushes her hair back and leaves her hand on her forehead. She's frustrated no one will fund the clinic.

“They see these pregnancies as statistics — not humans,” Fuller said. “They're trying. They're trying so hard every day.”

But even determination can be foiled by poverty, peer pressure and loneliness. Many of the students Fuller sees don't come from loving homes, and they fall prey to boys who promise love in exchange for sex.

“It's just not simple,” Fuller said. “These girls don't live in our world.”


AT A GLANCE

By THE

NUMBERS

$141,463

Annual price of running health clinics at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City and the Margaret Hudson Program in Tulsa and Broken Arrow.

$25,152

Average cost of hospital delivery of a baby in Oklahoma County.

$2,639

Annual cost per child on SoonerCare.

$190 million

Annual cost to Oklahoma taxpayers for teen pregnancy because of increased health care, welfare and other services.

$11 billion

Annual cost to U.S. taxpayers.

7,500

Number of births to Oklahoma teens in 2008.

21 percent

Percentage of those births were to teens who were already mothers.

50 percent

Percentage of teen mothers earn a diploma by age 22, compared with nearly 90 percent of women who have not given birth during adolescence.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Oklahoma Hospital Association, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

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