Program to combat teen pregnancy problem here

Published 5:27 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2009

FRANKLIN—School officials here have announced a program they believe will help reduce the rate of teen pregnancy in Franklin.

In January, school officials sent a letter to all J.P. King Middle School and Franklin High School parents giving them the opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted their children to participate in all, part or none of the program that will start in the last week of February.

After a study was released that determined Franklin to be 2 1/2 times higher than the state average in teen pregnancy rates, several city and school officials got together to tackle the issue.

Their solution came in the form of a new program called Walk In It, funded by the Camp Foundations.

Walk In It is a nonprofit program that was founded two years ago by the Rev. Janell Riddick and her husband, Dwight Riddick, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin.

Riddick said the Walk In It program is designed to encourage young people to make healthier choices by creating an environment that will develop higher self-efficacy and goal setting techniques.

“The goal is to advocate healthy decision making, goal setting and build self esteem and self respect. If we can get them to feel good about themselves, then they start to understand why it is worth the wait not to engage in detrimental activities,” said the Rev. Riddick.

Middle school students in 6th through 8th grade will be Walk In It’s target at J.P. King Middle School. There, the program will be implemented through the guidance counselor’s office.

J.P. King’s guidance counselor, M.L. Cruey, said she believes incorporating Walk In It into the curriculum is vital to her students’ futures.

“I’m just excited to have a more concrete program to help the students make the right choices. If we don’t catch them now at this level, they will already begin making decisions that might end up with some in pretty bad predicaments,” said Cruey.

Freshmen through juniors at Franklin High School will have a chance to participate in the program as a part of the state-approved, abstinence based program, “Choosing the Best”, offered during their regular Health and Fitness classes.

School officials and facilitators stressed that the program is abstinence based.

“This means abstinence is the suggestion, however we are here to mainly counsel them on how to make healthy choices,” said FHS Health and Fitness teacher, Travis Felts.

At a meeting Monday night meant to introduce the program to parents, Franklin City Schools’ acting superintendent Bev Rabil said she is optimistic that the program will help address the serious social issues facing young people in the community.

Tora Sweat, whose 17-year-old daughter, Kelli, has been working with the Riddicks for more than a year, was at the meeting as well.

“Since she (Kelli) has been involved she has been making better choices and has proved herself a leader among her friends. I am very proud of her,” Sweat said.

Kelli Sweat said it’s nice to have another adult she can go to when faced with tough decisions.

”She (Janelle Riddick) has really helped me understand even more how females must value ourselves and our bodies and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of,” she said.

Rabil said the schools searched for a long time to find a program that was the right fit.

“We are very fortunate we have people who are willing to discuss our issues and also very appreciative of the funding from the Camp Foundations for making this possible,” Rabil said.

The Riddicks said they became interested in working with Franklin youth because of the work they were already doing in their ministry.

“As we worked in the church and attended school assemblies giving motivational talks here and there throughout the year, we saw that there were so many kids who wouldn’t have access to the motivation and support needed to sustain healthy lifestyle decisions,” said Riddick.

After that realization, they began concentrating their efforts toward working within the Franklin community.

The Riddicks implemented two after-school programs at Franklin High School aimed at teaching some of the same lessons that will be learned through the Walk In It program.

Janelle heads up the “Ladies of Distinction” group while, Dwight serves as the head mentor of the “Men on a Mission” program.

The programs reach over 50 young men and women weekly and target youth that may be on the fence or at-risk of making choices that would possibly have negative effects on the rest of their lives.

The Riddicks said during their meetings, they discuss sex, drug and alcohol use, peer pressure and the dangers of participating in gang activity. In addition to after-school meetings, the teenagers get the opportunity to go on overnight retreats and college trips.

The Riddicks said both programs have served to facilitate better life choices in Franklin’s youth.

“Since we started Ladies of Distinction two years ago, none of the girls participating in the program have become pregnant,” said Janelle Riddick.

Dwight Riddick said he is confident the same type of success that has been reported in those two programs will carry over into the school system’s effort.

“Teenagers hear a lot of what they shouldn’t do but not a lot of option for what they can do. In our forums, we hope to share with them some practical solutions for what they should do when faced with crucial decisions,” he said.

Mrs. Riddick said that she hopes the community realizes the program will address some major social issues that they won’t be able to solve alone. “This is a huge undertaking and even though we are up for the challenge, we are really depending on our partnerships with the community and our parents to reinforce the training. We are looking forward to this being a communitywide effort,” she said.