Teenage Pregnancy Prevention
Support From Mentors Helps Teens Set Goals for the Future

lthough many associate Monterey County with vineyards and a beautiful coastline, in recent years it has become known to the public health community for its high rate of teenage pregnancy – about 900 county teens give birth each year. Concerned by this trend, the Charitable Council of Monterey County launched the Education, Careers, Health, Opportunities (ECHO) program. ECHO addresses teen pregnancy by emphasizing the connection between adolescent health and a future that offers possibilities other than unintentional pregnancy.

TCWF provided a two-year, $100,000 grant to the Charitable Council of Monterey County to fund the ECHO program’s series of interactive health and sexuality education modules and leadership development. Topics include reproductive health and anatomy, contraception, preventing sexually transmitted infections, and planning for the future. The series lasts for 10 months and is provided to sophomore and junior girls in six high schools. Adult mentors and senior peer leaders, who are graduates of the ECHO program and still in high school, administer the program. In addition to the series, the program includes enhancements such as field trips to nearby colleges and to Sacramento, where youth meet with legislators and learn how policies are created and influence our lives.

“Research has shown that by developing their leadership skills and using them within their communities, young people become more resilient, less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, and gain more control over their own futures,” said Pauline Daniels, TCWF program director. “The ECHO program has interwoven leadership development throughout the core educational series and beyond — exemplified by the use of ECHO graduates as senior peer leaders.”

While ECHO’s mentoring relationship is the core of the program, a number of other activities have grown out of it. Educational workshops similar to those offered in the mentoring program are provided to freshman girls by ECHO graduates who are still in high school. ECHO graduates are also leading a version of the teen pregnancy prevention series for middle school girls. All ECHO graduates who lead the educational workshops receive extra training in facilitation and get consistent support and feedback from ECHO adult staff.

“We started the activities for high school freshman and middle school girls because we wanted to provide more opportunities for the ECHO graduates to develop their leadership skills and stay involved with the program,” said Ricki Mazzullo, executive director of the Charitable Council of Monterey County. “We also know that the earlier we reach these girls and start to encourage them to go to college and really work on their futures, the more likely they are to reach their goals and make smart and healthy choices.”

Mazzullo explained that the girls participating in the program typically have no one in their family who has gone to college.

“The results of our evaluation, follow-up interviews and letters we’ve received from ECHO graduates themselves indicate that the girls’ experience of having this new kind of adult role model in their lives has been transformative,” Mazzullo said.

Since completing high school, 85 percent of the ECHO participants are now in college, 15 percent are working, and 2 percent are married with children – and indicate they plan to continue their education. At present, approximately 150 youth are served annually through the high school and middle school programs.

For more information, contact Patty Fernandez, ECHO youth coordinator, at (831) 783-1244.

Winter 2004

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