- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Every week, when Munira Mohamed meets with Robbinsdale Cooper High School students in the Teen Outreach Program, she starts with questions about what’s new in their lives.

Mohamed, a facilitator for the program, wants to know if there are signs of any behavior that will affect their future. Sometimes she doesn’t like what she hears.

“I see them really not connecting to their school,” she told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1npo4Y1). “I see them not connecting to their classmates. I see them being lost in the shuffle of what is high school, what is being a teenager.”

For Mohamed, who is on the front lines of Hennepin County’s pregnancy prevention program, those are signs that the teenage boys and girls in the class may be headed in the wrong direction - sometimes toward unwanted pregnancies.

Sex education is part of the curriculum in every Minnesota high school. But 32 Hennepin County schools are expanding on the effort through the outreach program, known as TOP, which includes frank discussions on the biology of reproduction and also on healthy relationships.

Funded by nearly $17 million federal grant over five years, TOP is offered to schools and teachers willing to participate and this year will reach 2,200 students. Students and their families can opt out of the curriculum but in four years only a handful have.

Its facilitators are not required to be licensed school teachers. However, they and the classroom teachers who work with them are trained in the TOP curriculum developed over the years.

It’s an effort that appears to be working. Since 2007, the teen birthrate has declined 40 percent - faster than nearly anywhere else in Minnesota, and the nation.

In 2007, Hennepin County recorded 1,152 births to girls ages 15 to 19. By 2011, that number had declined to 692 births.

Minnesota’s overall teen birth rate has declined 50 percent from 1991, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. There were 3,295 teen births in Minnesota in 2012.

From 2011 to 2012, the national birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 dropped 6 percent to 29.4 per 1,000- the lowest rate ever reported for the United States. Rates were down for age groups 15-17 and 18-19, and for nearly all races and Hispanic origin groups. From 2007 to 2011, the national teen birth rate declined 26 percent.

Researchers from the federal department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health and from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy say the recession, access to contraception and reality TV programs that show the consequences of becoming pregnant contributed to the declining teen pregnancy rates.

Others credit abstinence education, a key component in Minnesota schools.

Still, the United States still has one of the highest teen birth rates among wealthy countries.

“U.S. teens are two and a half times as likely to give birth as compared to teens in Canada, around four times as likely as teens in Germany or Norway, and almost 10 times as likely as teens in Switzerland,” noted a 2012 study done for the National Institutes of Health. “Among more developed countries, Russia has the next highest teen birth rate after the United States, but an American teenage girl is still around 25 percent more likely to give birth than her counterpart in Russia. Moreover, these statistics incorporate the almost 40 percent fall in the teen birth rate that the United States has experienced over the past two decades.”

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