December 6, 2012 10:09:45 AM
JACKSON -- Organizers say it's just a coincidence that separate conferences about teenage pregnancy in Mississippi are taking place in the same facility on the same day.
The back-to-back gatherings are Thursday at the Jackson Convention Complex.
The first one, for health professionals, educators and other adults, is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is sponsored by the Women's Fund of Mississippi and the state Health Department. It focuses on "abstinence-plus" sex education, which can include information about contraception without giving demonstrations of how to use condoms.
The second conference, with teenagers participating, is 4-6 p.m. and is sponsored by the governor's office and the state Department of Human Services. It's expected to focus more on the abstinence-until-marriage approach that Republican Gov. Phil Bryant advocates.
Mississippi has long had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation. A state law enacted in 2011 requires school districts, for the first time, to teach some sort of sex education classes, starting this school year. Before now, districts had the option to teach sex education with an emphasis on abstinence.
Eighty-one districts chose to teach abstinence-only, 71 chose abstinence-plus and three districts chose a combination -- abstinence-only for younger grades and abstinence-plus for older grades. Parents must give permission for their children to take the classes, and boys and girls are separated.
Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said the governor on Thursday would talk about the consequences of teen pregnancy, including how early parenthood can create challenges in completing high school or college. The agenda for Bryant's gathering includes a teen talent showcase, presentations by young people telling about their own lives and a production by the Anderson United Methodist Church dance ministry, Bullock said.
During a town-hall meeting Nov. 27 in Brookhaven, Bryant said he believes most teenagers know how to obtain and use contraception, but too many are failing to do so.
"The problem is teenagers do not care enough about using (it)," Bryant said, according to the Daily Leader.
Bryant's teenage pregnancy prevention task force has held other meetings geared toward adults, and Bullock said the governor wanted one aimed specifically at teenagers.
The conference sponsored by the Women's Fund and the Health Department includes discussions of what's working and what's not as schools start teaching young people about reproductive health. It will also include sessions about the behavior of teenagers and their access to health care.
Jamie H. Bardwell, program director for the Women's Fund, said the conference is intentionally geared toward adults, although the Women's Fund also has youth advisory boards.
"At the end of the day, teen pregnancy is an adult problem," Bardwell said. "If we don't have adults who understand these issues day-to-day, then it's hard to provide accurate information to young people."
Bardwell said young people are often more willing to offer insights and opinions in small group settings rather than at large conferences.