Sunday, March 15, 2009

Action urged on Holyoke's teen birth rate

from The Republican
Saturday March 14, 2009, 6:51 PM

By KEN ROSS
kross@repub.com

HOLYOKE - Community organizations and the city need to have a unified strategy for combating teen pregnancy, according to city officials and community leaders.

"City bodies are realizing this is a problem, and we want to come to a consensus," said City Councilor Rebecca Lisi this week.

She spoke last week at a City Council Redevelopment Committee meeting at which members agreed to meet on April 6 to finalize recommendations for addressing the city's high teenage birthrate.

"We have to get started," said Councilor Elaine A. Pluta.

The panel has been studying the issue for more than two years, according to Chairman and City Councilor Diosdado Lopez. The council first referred the issue to the committee in March 2007, he said.

According to the most recent statistics, Holyoke's teenage birthrate was 95.4 out of 1,000 births in 2007, making it the highest of any community in the state.

At the meeting, councilors met with five health officials, some of whom work for the city or the School District, to discuss ways to address the issue. One possible solution suggested by several people was making sure that the district has a uniform sex education curriculum.

Terri Pudlo, a part-time health director in the district, said sex and health education lessons vary from school to school. Or, according to Mary Fago of the River Valley Counseling Center, the district's sex education curriculum "is not being implemented consistently."

She said the School District needs to decide "what is and is not appropriate to be taught" in sex education classes.

But Lopez insisted that the district cannot be blamed for the teen birthrate.

"I'm not pointing a finger at the school," he said. "I think as a whole community we have failed."

Lopez and others said they believe that a task force of city councilors and School Committee members needs to be formed to address the issue.

"I'm looking for some committee that will have some force to get this going," he said. "If we create a task force, we will just talk back and forth."

Councilor Peter R. Tallman agreed that school officials need to be involved in the process.

"That's a key part to this," he said.

But no matter who is involved in the process, all agreed that the city needs to do more to educate teenagers about the impact of having a child at such a young age.

"There needs to be more education," said City Councilor Anthony M. Keane.

Sandy Zieminski, the city's public health nurse, agreed, "We talk a lot, but I'd like to see action."

Other health officials who attended the meeting included Lesley Kayan, a senior community health educator from Planned Parenthood, and Laurie Beauchemin, a nurse at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

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