Strollers and sippy cups will replace pencil cases and backpacks as the must-have back-to-school items for more than a dozen pregnant Gloucester High School students next year.
School officials confirm at least 17 students at the Massachusetts high school are pregnant and they may have been part of what is being called a pregnancy pact.
One girl even reportedly had sex with a 24-year-old homeless man to fulfill her pledge, according to a report in Time magazine.
"I heard some of the kids were pleased as punch at the results," said Greg Verga, chairman of the Gloucester School Committee.
That's the rumor anyway — a rumor given credence by an interview that Gloucester High School principal Joseph Sullivan gave to Time, in which he described a pact entered into by the girls to get pregnant and raise their babies together. The apparent pact might explain the four-fold increase in teen pregnancies at the school this year.
'An Unplanned Blessing'
Rumors aside, one thing that is true is that you don't have to walk very far in Gloucester to find an unwed teenage mother. Baby-faced teens pushing baby carriages seem to be everywhere in this blue-collar town. At the local McDonald's, in a matter of minutes three teenage moms showed up with strollers and babies in tow to form a little impromptu playgroup in the parking lot.
Seventeen-year-old Alivia showed off her 5-month-old bundle of joy, Xavier. She said her pregnancy was unplanned and that she wasn't part of any pact, although she isn't surprised by the news. "That's just Gloucester," she said.
Teen mom Amanda proudly mentions that baby William is 2 months old today and adds that the other girls may have been motivated to get pregnant because "they see all the girls doing it, and they see the attention they get."
And finally, 17-year-old Meaghan, whose 3-month-old boy is snoozing in a nearby carriage, quietly offers this advice to teens tempted to embrace motherhood instead of math class: "Don't do it, don't get pregnant."
But another Gloucester student, 16-year-old Alycia Mazzeo, said getting pregnant was a decision she will never regret.
"Pregnancy is a beautiful thing," said Mazzeo, "It was an unplanned blessing for me."
Pop Culture Influence?
Still, to some teens it must seem like everybody's doing it — and not just in Gloucester. After all, 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, star of Nickelodean's "Zoey 101," just had a baby girl, Maddie Briann. And the plot of last year's Oscar-nominated movie "Juno" revolved around the unplanned pregnancy of a high school girl.
At the high school, teen moms have access to a free on-site day care center run by Sue Todd, president and CEO of Pathways for Children.
"Last year out of four teen moms, four went on to college," said Todd.
That's why Todd vehemently takes issue with people who criticize her program as contributing to the problem of teen pregnancy.
"We are here to provide support and help the girls graduate from high school. Will the availability of free day care be an incentive for kids to get pregnant? Kids are just not wired that way," she said.
When the pregnancy numbers spiked this year, employees at the school health clinic advocated that contraceptives be dispensed without parental consent, as they are in many schools nationwide. But in this conservative, largely Catholic community of about 30,000, that idea was not well received. A doctor and a nurse eventually resigned over the issue.
'They're Too Young'
The school committee is due to discuss school-based contraceptives at the end of the month, according to Verga, who was himself a teenage dad. "I became a parent at 18 so I understand … these are not people who are ready to go out in the world. They're too young."
School superintendent, Christopher Farmer insists that Gloucester High School should not be judged by a few Juno-wannabes. "It's a good school, good staff and the great majority of the kids behave responsibly," said Farmer.
Of course, if it was attention the teenagers were seeking, they've certainly got that now. The story of the "teenage pregnancy pact" has become an international sensation. Camera crews from all three national television news networks were bumping into each other in the superintendent's office this week. And several teens at a local hangout had to run across the street holding their babies to escape a local reporter who wouldn't take no for an answer.
But when the media is gone, there will still be 17 high schools girls spending their summer buying bottles and burp cloths, instead of going to the beach. Those 17 teenage girls will now have their due dates circled on a calendar, along with the first day of school.