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June 19, 2008

Gloucester High School's day-care center overflowing for September

None of the Gloucester High School students who got pregnant or had children during the school year have dropped out, and Principal Joseph Sullivan credits the in-school day-care program and health clinic with keeping them in school.

But this year's spike in teen pregnancies at the school — 18, as compared to three or four in an average year — will pose a huge challenge for the day-care center in September. Only three young mothers were enrolled in the program for the academic year that just ended. For 2008-2009, eight have applied for the seven available slots in the free program, and there's already a waiting list.

Across the country, studies have linked teen pregnancy to high dropout rates and since 1996 Gloucester High School officials have utilized child-care and parent services provided by local nonprofit Pathways for Children to keep student-mothers in school.

But for the upcoming school year, "It is a concern that we may not be able to provide services for everyone who needs it," Lisa Sorrento, program coordinator at Pathways, said yesterday. "At this point, we don't know if all the mothers will stay on the list."

Sorrento said she did not know what any mothers will do if they cannot get a spot in the day-care program, called the Young Families Initiative.

As discussions among school, city and medical officials about responses to the spike in teen pregnancies, now placed at 18 (an increase from previous reports) by a member of the health clinic staff, some have raised questions about whether having day care in the school might be encouraging students to have babies and contributing to the problem.

The issue burst into the national spotlight yesterday, when Time magazine posted a story on its Web site about the Gloucester pregnancies. The story appears in the print edition that will be on newsstands today, and refers to some of the girls as having formed a "pact" to get pregnant and raise the children together.

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