by David Shivers
Angie Barber, director of the Phoebe Network of Trust, has visited the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County previously, but she returned on November 11 to reiterate to the club the organization’s mission and the ways in which it is being accomplished.
Network of Trust focuses primarily on teen pregnancy and its aftermath. Although a national grant-funded program, locally it is funded in part by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and is being implemented through schools in five area counties (Calhoun, Dougherty, Lee, Terrell, and Worth) and is supported by a collaboration of some 14 health, education, and family support organizations.
According to information presented by Barber, teen child-bearing in Dougherty County has cost taxpayers nearly $6 million; there are almost six new teen pregnancies each week; 25 percent of teen pregnancies among girls ages 15-19 are repeat pregnancies; Dougherty County’s teen pregnancy rate for 15-19 year-olds (80.4) exceeds the state average of 70 percent; and there were 35 premature births in 2010 to teen mothers ages 15-19.
A number of avenues are being pursued to reduce teen pregnancies and help teenage parents:
The “Get a Life Teen Maze” is an interactive exercise to help Dougherty middle school students in making positive life choices.
School health clinics have been shown to decrease emergency room visits, said Barber.
Project SAVE, through a 2012 grant from Firehouse Subs, enabled the placement of AEDs (automated external defibrillators) in all Dougherty elementary schools. Additionally a comprehensive program to prevent sudden cardiac death created by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was implemented in all Dougherty County schools.
A middle school health program aided by grants from Kohl’s Cares is active in Dougherty, Lee and Worth counties and at private schools Sherwood Christian Academy and Deerfield-Windsor. Its goals are disease prevention, health promotion, and early intervention.
The local Network of Trust has been a two-time recipient of the Walt Orenstein Champions for Immunization Award with an immunization rate increase from 52 to 88.6 percent.
Barber said program officials were very pleased in 2011 to meet family members of Rachel Scott, the 17-year-old who was the first person killed in the Columbine school massacre. They came to Albany to present Rachel’s Challenge, a nationwide effort started by the Scott family to prevent school violence.
Healthteacher, which Barber described as “one of the most innovative things” she has seen, provides online health education lessons and resources aligned to state and national standards. It is being used in an estimated 8,500 schools across all 50 states and includes Go-Noodle, a suite of interactive games designed to improve classroom engagement and get kids up and moving throughout the day; Awesome Upstander, an anti-bullying video game that teaches kids how to stand up to bullies and provides bullying resources for parents and teachers; and Healthteacher at Home, an online newsletter updated monthly and a free website for parents to health with expert health content that teachers have in classrooms.
The Network of Trust curriculum is school board-approved and has three phases: Early Identification, After Delivery, and Planning the Future. There is also a teen dad element and community outreach program. Weekly classes are offered in middle and high schools in all five counties.
The benefits of the teen parenting program for schools are decreases in absenteeism and dropouts and a resulting rise in graduation rates and school funding. For communities this results in lowered costs and poverty rates and an increase in the qualified workforce.