At a high school in Gloucester, Mass., at least 17 teenage girls are pregnant — more than quadruple the school's pregnancy rate from the same time last year.
But what has stunned people in this largely Catholic town is that it seems as though these teenagers created a pact and were trying to get pregnant so that they could raise their babies together.
Kathleen Kingsbury, a reporter for Time magazine, helped bring national attention to this story with her article "Pregnancy Boom at Gloucester High." She conducted interviews with the girls in the pact, the friends and the principal at the school, among others, after it came to light.
Kingsbury tells NPR's Michele Norris that Principal Joseph Sullivan made it clear that most of the girls were lonely, and they didn't have strong families behind them. Most of the girls were sophomores.
"I have a feeling that these girls weren't part of the cheerleading squad; they were more loners," Kingsbury says. "As to where the idea of the pact came from, that's still unclear."
The school first noticed the trend because a large number of girls were going to the school clinic to have pregnancy tests. When they found out they were pregnant, they celebrated. One yelled out "sweet!" says Kingsbury.
When Sullivan investigated, six or seven of the girls admitted that they were trying to get pregnant. The trend has baffled the principal and other adults in Gloucester, Kingsbury says.
What is clear, says Kingsbury, is that the girls didn't have restrictions in their lives. And they live in a town that has been hit hard by the loss of its fishing industry.
"So these are girls who didn't have a strong life plan, and they decided, essentially, to make their own life plan and take control of the situation," Kingsbury says. "They decided if they needed an identity, being a mother would be their identity."
Another interesting fact is that the girls did not have a strong background in sexual education, which ends freshman year, Kingsbury says — the girls she spoke to had little knowledge of condoms and contraceptives.
"One girl I spoke with said she and her boyfriend used a condom every few times, but they didn't really know why they were doing it," Kingsbury says. "And sometimes they just forgot, and sometimes they just didn't think it was important."
In May, school nurse Kim Daly and the director of the student health clinic, Brian Orr, resigned in protest after the school rejected their proposal to distribute contraceptives regardless of parental permission, according to Kingsbury.
As for the fathers of the babies, Kingsbury says many of them were older than the girls. One was a 24-year-old homeless man who was living in a local shelter; the girls apparently recruited him. Authorities are trying to determine whether to press statutory rape charges against the fathers, according to Kingsbury.
Kingsbury says that town residents are baffled.
"I think they're ashamed that this is what has brought attention to the town," she says.