- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

D.C. public school students who attended the Covenant House Washington’s annual health fair yesterday were told “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is still the best advice for staying healthy.

About 450 students attended the fourth annual fair, which was held at the Hillcrest Recreation Center in Southeast, focused on students ages 11 to 17 and on preventing teen pregnancy, illegal drug use and violence.

“This is a crucial age because the students are impressionable,” said Shanita Burney, Covenant House Washington’s director of prevention services and coordinator of the event. “It’s a time of experimentation, so we want to catch them at an early-enough age … because they could go either way.”

Covenant House Washington, which has provided services for local homeless and runaway youths for more than a decade, invited 40 District agencies to participate and offered workshops, exhibits, speak-out sessions and health screenings.

“We’re sending a message to our young people that they matter,” said Judith Dobbins, Covenant House’s executive director. “And because they matter, we are going to bring the best opportunities and services to them.”

Kate Jesberg of the D.C. Department of Human Services, which funds community-based organizations for teen-pregnancy prevention in the District, said the number of teen pregnancies and births in the city has declined significantly because organizations are working together.

The city’s teen birthrate declined 37 percent from 1991 to 2002. There would have been about 4,600 additional children born to teen mothers without the decline, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Northwest.

“Had we not engaged in these efforts, we would be looking at approximately 5,000 teens who had given birth, a large majority of whom could have ended up receiving welfare,” Ms. Jesberg said.

The national campaign group also reports that the declines have reduced by 21 percent the number of children living in single-mother homes and stuck in poverty.

Darlena Hunter, an eighth-grader at Winston Educational Center in Southeast, winced while holding the infant simulator, an electronically programmed doll that behaves like a real infant.

“I’ve seen how babies wake up during the night, and I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I’m going to stay in school because I’m not ready to become a mother.”

Classmate Dominique Terry, 12, agreed. “I don’t think we should have children at such a young age,” he said, adding that the simulator was “a good way to find out how babies act.”

Said Ms. Burney: “We have the simulator to teach them that they are not ready.”

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