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Reducing Teen Pregnancy in the Delta

Posted on: February 27, 2018

Jesse James Henderson will be racing to win for the next four years, and he doesn’t plan to let a lapse in judgment slow him down.

Henderson is part of a new program in the Mississippi Delta aimed at reducing teen pregnancy. Called Delta Futures, the program is helping to meet the unique challenges of the region in terms of high unemployment and poverty rates and their relationship to teen pregnancy. Covering 16 Delta counties, Delta Futures implements an evidence-based, medically accurate program that is sensitive to the cultural needs of the population it targets.

“When it comes to sex, I believe that abstinence until marriage is the best way,” said Henderson a senior at Yazoo County High School, who’s received a four-year scholarship to run track for Mississippi State University. “The Delta Futures program informs younger people about the importance of staying abstinent.”

The Delta Futures Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is helping students such as Henderson reach their goals through greater knowledge about sex, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. He and Delta teens in 10 public school districts have been learning how to make the right choices when it comes to sex.

“I feel like it’s been highly successful,” said Nikki Payne, who directs the project for the Delta Health Alliance. “Just getting the feedback from the kids and seeing the interaction between them has told me we’ve been making important progress.”

With nine community health liaisons, two data specialists, a program manager, and a project director, Delta Futures has reached 4,000 students since August 2016, said Payne. Pre-and post-testing assesses the success of the program.

“We discuss goal setting and envisioning your future, and how a pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease can affect all that,” said Payne. “We’re educating them to make the best decision for themselves.”

When it comes to teen pregnancy, teen mothers are more likely to be high school dropouts, limiting future earnings and the financial support they can provide their child. And they are more likely to rely on public assistance. In addition, children born to teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely; to be born at a low birth weight; and to die as infants.

Like Henderson, Jordan Jones has big plans after high school. Engaging in risky behavior isn’t one of them. “I want to become a pediatric nurse and open a child healthcare center,” said Jordan, a senior at Clarksdale High School. “And I want to become an advocate for younger teens.”

Through Delta Futures, teens learn essential information about HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; ways to handle social and sexual pressures; ways to communicate assertively with friends and potential sexual partners; refusal skills, negotiation skills and problem-solving skills; and the proper use of condoms.

“Often it comes down to trust,” said Payne. “We stress at the beginning of class to have a trusted adult that they can turn to for help. We want them to know that they are never alone.”