Teenage pregnancy is prevalent in Peoria County, and a soon-to-launch program hopes to tackle it one conversation at a time.
The goal is to empower young women by engaging in what program leaders call “Real T.A.L.K.”
“Real Teens Asking Learning and Knowing,” said Becca Mathis, creator and coordinator for Real T.A.L.K.
Starting Thursday, girls at Peoria High will have the chance to chat about sex on their own terms.
“It’s really an opportunity for women specifically to get out of the classroom setting and get to talk about things regarding their health, specifically sexual health,” said Mathis. “But maybe some sides of the issues that we don’t get to talk about in the classroom – whether that be time or maybe their comfort level around their other peers.”
Becca Mathis, also a health educator at Hult Center for Healthy Living, says girls will meet once-a-week during lunch hour in a ‘non-judge mental’ environment, and there, freshmen to seniors will learn to support one another. The Hult Center recently received a $5000 grant to help purchase resources, support one-on-one mentoring and attract guest speakers.
“When we start these conversations at a young age, not only do these young women realize this is something they can gain control over, but actually empower each other in these health decisions. It’s about having a stake in your own health,” said Mathis.
The Hult Center chose Peoria High, according to Mathis, due to extremely high teen pregnancy rates. An Illinois State Board of Education and CDC report revealed in 2012, roughly 37 out of every 1000 girls ages 15 to 19 years old give birth in Peoria County. The rate is already above the state and national average, but Peoria High’s zip code, 61604, the number jumps to 60 girls. You can read that report here.
“They talk to each other already, but most times it’s whatever is on the internet and some uniformed source,” said Dawn Jeffries.
Jeffries, and her group G.L.O.W or Girls Light Our Way, empower young women throughout the district to be next generation leaders.
“It’s going to be critically important for them to realize they are not the only ones dealing with that,” said Jeffries. “Because they spend so much time in their own heads. It’s just going to be important to have that forum.”
“This is kind of a critical moment where they can possibly make a decision that will forever influence their life and recognizing that there are other women around them that agree and that there are other women that are successful that support them in those goals and aspirations they have,” she said.