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Nonprofit Tries to Reduce Latina Teenage Pregnancy Rate

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A nonprofit group in Maryland is hoping to reduce teenage pregnancy among Latinas by taking a different approach, one that focuses on self-actualization and self-respect, not just sex education. The group, Identity, operates a program in a dozen high schools in Maryland's Montgomery County, outside Washington.

"If the gap between Latinos and other groups continues to widen in terms of teen pregnancy rates, we can expect the cycle of poverty to continue in these communities, in addition to other negative consequences for the children and higher economic costs for taxpayers," Diego Uriburu, co-chairman of Montgomery's Latino Youth Collaborative Oversight Committee and director of the group, told The Washington Post.

During the educational sessions, the students learn about condom use and other birth control. But first, they gain insights on self-worth, including through a unique exercise involving an avocado and an orange. At a session for 10 Latino students at Wheateon High School, instructors Reyna Trinidad and Jonathan Bibb explain that the orange may look gorgeous on the outside, but it will collapse under pressure. The avocado may look bruised, they say, but its pit remains strong.

"Always remember your 'pit,''' Trinidad tells her group. "That is the person who you are, your inner self."

Though the pregnancy birthrate among Latino girls ages 15 to 17 has fallen in Montgomery County over the past two decades, it is still more than 2 1/2 times the rate for the county's African-American girls in the same age group and more than three times the rate for Caucasian girls. Researchers point to several reasons for this.

"What I found is that there needed to be more than sexual education,'' Genevieve Martinez-Garcia, senior researcher at the Healthy Teens Network and a former Montgomery Latino youth researcher, told The Washington Post. "You have to look at what's going on in the kids' life. Where they live, go to school and where they play matters. Having two-parent households matters."

For that reason, the pregnancy-prevention program pitches itself to teens as something more entertaining than typical sex ed, encouraging students to volunteer for the program themselves.

"I joined because my friends told me how fun it was, and I don't mean to be racist, but it's good to spend some time with other Latinos because it is a way to feel more comfortable when talking about things," 15-year-old participant Aristides Garcia says.

In 2011, Identity and the social services agency Mary's Center began using an annual $1 million federal grant for a co-ed, bilingual pregnancy-prevention program and curriculum, tailored toward Latino youths. Wheaton High School is one of the 12 schools that use the program. Professors from the George Washington University School of Public Health are trying to measure the program's success, and the first results are expected later this year.

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