At Risk Task Force seeks community participation
Six of every 100 teenage girls gave birth in 2006. In that same year, 4.27 million babies were born. 6,400 of those were born to moms under the age of 15 and 89,000 of that 4.27 million were babies born to Indiana teenagers.
These were statistics presented by Dr. Veronica Dorsch at a task force meeting of concerned community members to discuss at risk behaviors of teenagers in Putnam County.
This group grew out of a Wellness Committee put together at North Putnam schools earlier this year. Over 30 people met recently at North Putnam High School to discuss ways to educate and provide services to at risk children. Representatives from the schools, Cummins Mental Health, area churches, Putnam County Youth Development Commission, Probation, concerned parents, grandparents and many others were at the meeting.
"We need to combat destructive behaviors among teens," said Jason Chew, Dean of Students at NPHS.
"This meeting is a first step brainstorming session to determine what kind of things can be done to help this community's at risk children," continued Chew.
The at risk behaviors the task force is concerned with include premature sexual activity, early pregnancy, delinquency, crime, alcohol and drug abuse.
Dropouts make up nearly half of the prison population, according to Civil Rights project at Harvard University. That same report talks about a high percentage of young dropouts who are either not employed or are not even in the labor force.
In their lifetimes, recent dropouts will earn $200,000 less than high school graduates and $800,000 less than college graduates. Additionally, dropouts make up nearly half the heads of households on welfare. Over 25 years, a dropout student can cost a community as much as $500,000 in public assistance, health care and incarceration costs.
"We can't help people until we bring everybody together," said Indiana State Policeman and North Putnam school board member Charlie Boller. "Kids make bad decisions and bad choices. There are six townships in this school corporation. My first thought was to find central places where kids can go in each of those townships."
According to several members of the task force, the hours after school between 3 and 6 p.m. is a trouble time period, especially for latchkey kids. The other problem time is late at night.
Suggestions for ways to help ranged from bringing YMCA programs to the area to using local churches staffed with volunteers for after school and summer programs to building on programs already in place.
Dr. Dorsch talked about a program called "Peers Educating Peers" at North Central High School that encourages students to "abstain to attain."
"It began eight years ago with 16 kids and now has over 200 students. Kids sign commitment papers and agree to good attendance, maintaining a decent grade point average and learning how to handle responsibility," she said.
"It changes peer pressure to peer support. The closest school to us with this program is North Montgomery," added Dr. Dorsch.
North Putnam has a program in place called "Character Counts" that starts in the elementary schools.
"We push it hard in the elementary schools but not so much in the high school," said Chew.
High School teacher Ron Price pulled all the ideas down to two items.
"The existing programs like 4-H, Scouts and youth groups need to be identified and barriers that keep kids from being involved need to be determined. Secondly, we need to identify those who are underserved and create new programs," he said.
"I would hate to see all these people come together, have all this passion and not have anything happen," he concluded.
The next meeting of the At Risk Task Force is set for 7 p.m. May 11 at North Putnam High School's cafeteria. The tentative agenda includes a background for new members and the development of a mission statement and an action plan.
Anyone interested in participating in the group is welcome. Community members are welcome and encouraged to attend. For information about the task force contact Jason Chew at North Putnam High School at 522-6282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org