, Gloucester, MA

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March 7, 2008

Spike in Gloucester High pregnancies alarms officials

Pregnancies at Gloucester High School have spiked to more than three times the normal number this year, and anecdotes of girls deciding to intentionally become pregnant have been reported by one school official.

"To have this many is extremely unusual," said High School Principal Joseph Sullivan. "The volume frightens me."

To get to the bottom of the problem, Sullivan investigated and came up with a startling revelation: According to his conversations with upperclassmen, some younger students may be becoming pregnant on purpose.

Kim Daly, nurse practitioner for the high school, was unable to confirm specifics but did say that the majority of students reporting pregnancies this school year were in the younger grades.

While high school officials normally see around three pregnancies a year, this year at least 10 girls have become pregnant and appear to be planning to have the children, according to Ann-Marie Jordan, the school district's health coordinator.

Recently released national and state statistics showed the first increase in the teen birth rate in 15 years. However, because of the way statistics are compiled, that information is for 2006 — a two-year lag from the issue with which the high school is now struggling.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the nonprofit Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, said that, while statistics may be behind, she has heard anecdotal evidence supporting just the issue worrying Gloucester.

"The sense is, there are more pregnant girls in schools," Quinn said. She said she had not, however, heard of girls intentionally becoming pregnant in her conversations with health professionals across the commonwealth.

The idea isn't a new one, though. According to Bill Albert, deputy director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 10 percent to 15 percent of teen pregnancies are intended.

Why it's happening

Sullivan said that he was eyeing Hollywood as one force that may be influencing teens to become pregnant. Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears, 16, recently announced her surprise pregnancy. Single motherhood or having children out of wedlock has become increasingly popular among celebrities; and blockbusters "Juno" and "Knocked Up" have presented views through rose-colored glasses of unplanned pregnancies.

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