SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The teen pregnancy rate in the United States is the lowest it's been in the last 40 years. But in some communities, the number of young girls getting pregnant remains stubbornly high.
From member station KCRW, Saul Gonzalez reports on what one Los Angeles high school has done to try to address the problem.
SAUL GONZALEZ, BYLINE: If your memories of visiting the nurses office consist of getting a couple of aspirin or a Band-Aid for a scraped knee, then you probably wouldn't be prepared for what's in school nurse Sherry Medrano's cabinets.
SHERRY MEDRANO: I have samples of the different types of birth control that we offer, which is all the hormonal methods.
GONZALEZ: What are we looking at here?
MEDRANO: This is the pills. We have the patch and we have the ring. And then we have the emergency contraception.
GONZALEZ: Medrano is the chief nurse at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles' predominantly Latino Boyle Heights neighborhood. And she has this armory of birth control options because this campus is what health officials call a pregnancy hot spot, where teen pregnancy rates are two to three times higher than other L.A. neighborhoods.
In fact, the teen pregnancy rate has been so high for so long here, the school has teamed up with Planned Parenthood to operate this on-campus clinic.
Sue Dunlap is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.
SUE DUNLAP, PRESIDENT, CEO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD LOS ANGELES: What happened at Roosevelt is that the nurse reached out to us and said that there was a tremendously high rate of teen pregnancy, could we help?
GONZALEZ: The program at Roosevelt High is the only Planned Parenthood-funded family planning clinic in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
ANGELES: So what we do in Roosevelt is make sure that they have the support and resources that they need to cut down their teen pregnancy rate, whether that means access to condoms, access to information, access to our medical director.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPUS NOISE)
GONZALEZ: And access to student peer advocates. Their job is to talk to fellow students about safe sex and publicize the family planning services offered by the clinic.
CHRISTIAN JUAREZ: The whole reason behind being peer advocates is having a better line of communication within the students of the school.
GONZALEZ: Peer advocate Christian Juarez is a 15-year-old sophomore at Roosevelt. Although enthusiastic, even sunny about what he's doing, Christian says his parents weren't so thrilled when he broke the news to them about his new school activity.
JUAREZ: I come from a very strong Catholic family and when I told my parents that I was doing this they kind of were like iffy. They were a little iffy about it. I told them this is normal and I'm going to do this because I feel like this information should be passed around my school.
GONZALEZ: Of course, at a time when even adult contraception has become a national political issue, not everyone is happy with the idea of Planned Parenthood's presence on a public school campus.
VALERIE HUBER: We're very concerned when the sex education that teens are receiving in a school is doing little more than normalizing teen sexual behavior, rather than encouraging them to avoid all risk.
GONZALEZ: Valerie Huber is the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, which promotes abstinence-only instruction in schools. She says a program like the one at Roosevelt High School, with its easy access to birth control, only encourages teen sex.
HUBER: A program like this is setting an expectation that teens are going to have sex and rather than giving them the information and skills to encourage them to wait, it is normalizing that behavior.
MEDRANO: We do talk about abstinence, but I would say that 90 percent of the time abstinence just isn't working for them.
GONZALEZ: It's just not.
It's not happening. Yeah. Abstinence doesn't happen, especially when they're in a relationship.
And Roosevelt's school nurse Sherry Medrano says since the partnership with Planned Parenthood started in 2008, pregnancies on this campus fell from 32 cases to just three.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Catch "Alice and the Rabbit" from 8 to 12 at the Sweetheart's Dance and make it a night in Wonderland.
GONZALEZ: Its announcements like these for spring dances and other social events that helped Medrano detect what she calls a seasonal pattern to pregnancy at Roosevelt High.
MEDRANO: What I call my peak season is March 1st through June 1st. And the reason is - well, I attribute it to several things - Valentine's Day, prom, different events that happen. I know everybody laughs when I say that, but, you know, that's the only thing I can really attribute to the peak in teen pregnancies during that time period.
GONZALEZ: Although still well below what it was, the number of teen girls getting pregnant on campus has inched up in the years since the program was started. In preparation for summer vacation, Medrano gives students extra birth control and starts referring them to other clinics in the area.
For NPR News, I'm Saul Gonzalez in Los Angeles.
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