A Carthage group of parents, civic leaders and community members will be approaching the Carthage R-9 School Board in the near future regarding a difficult issue.

A Carthage group of parents, civic leaders and community members will be approaching the Carthage R-9 School Board in the near future regarding a difficult issue.

For past couple of months, the Carthage Caring Communities Coalition has brainstormed ideas on how to reach local teens regarding the rising rates of teen pregnancy. The group found that LifeChoices, a program that coordinates sex education in schools, has not been in place since 2009.

Dr. Blaine Henningsen, superintendent of the Carthage R-9 School District, said when the program was cut, it was a result of a large budget cut back demanded by the state. The district had made $1 million worth of cutbacks which also affected after school programs and kept the district from new school buses. However, Henningsen said there was also an additional reason.

“There were some issues with the program where students were going home upset because the program was too explicit,” Henningsen said. “We had calls from the principals and parents, but that might have just been that presenter or situation. We're not saying we don't want to do the program again, the board considers options every year and we'll see where we're at this year. The door is still open.”

Representatives with LifeChoices made a presentation on what the program does and how it reaches teens on a personal level during the Caring Communities meeting, with many in attendance.

“This is something extremely important to get back into schools,” said Robin Standridge, Alliance of Southwest Missouri's community director. “This is not just a home issue, or a church issue, this is a community issue and we have to do something.”

Shannon Wendt, prevention services director with the LifeChoices Medical Clinic and Resource Center in Joplin, shared stories of her educational encounters with students and encouraged those attending the meeting that the program touches lives. Pamela Corkle, with Bright Futures-Carthage was convinced.

“As far as I'm concerned this is a phenomenal program and I wish something like this would have been implemented into my school – into my community – when I was young … Our kids are worth it.”

The program is estimated to cost the district $327 a year with trained personnel visiting approximately 30 classes in the schools with age-appropriate materials and programs.

The group made a questionnaire for those attending the meeting to check the items they would like to see happen in Carthage: creating an adoption friendly community; bringing a pregnancy center for teens to Carthage that would identify sexually transmitted diseases, positive or negative pregnancy results, and provide referrals for teens to other resources; helping implement Connections Institute in Carthage R-9 advocating; aid in the coordination or a resource room for pregnant and parenting teens in Carthage; parenting classes for parenting or pregnant teens; support group for parents on teen sexual issues; preventing subsequent teen pregnancies; peer to peer support group; daycare for teen parents; other.

The representatives from LifeChoices said they already see clients from Carthage at the Joplin center, and know that young women from Carthage go to St. Louis, Mo., Fayetteville, Ark., and Columbia, Mo., for abortions. Terri Bullard, with the Jasper County Health Department, provided some numbers on the teen pregnancy issue:
In the years 2005-2009, there were 13 pregnancies for ages 10-14; 399 for ages 15-17; 993 for ages 18-19.

Wendt said LifeChoices is a program that lost its federal funding years ago and many schools dropped out, however, local schools surrounding Carthage, like Webb City, Sarcoxie and Neosho, have budgeted the program into the curriculum.

The next school board meeting will be Sept. 17.