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New Mexico has highest teen pregnancy rate in country

A new report ranks New Mexico as the state with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, about 93 out of 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 got pregnant in New Mexico. Those are the latest numbers from 2008.

According to the report, Mississippi and Texas follow New Mexico for the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

A proposed bill in the legislature would require public and charter schools to give teen moms at least 10 days of excused absences when they give birth.

The bill would also provide additional days as deemed necessary by the student’s physician. Additionally, the bill would give teen moms four more excused absences per semester.

The bill has already been approved by the House. Now it moves on to the Senate.

The Las Cruces Public School District currently requires all students to attend at least 90 percent of the days their classes are held or they lose the credits. A spokesman for the district said that gives them a maximum number of excused absences between 10 and 15 days depending on students’ credit hours.

“A lot of these students because of maternity issues and recovery, they fall into that issue of automatically having to appeal. Each school deals with this on a case-by-case basis. Some students need a little more time. The typical time we give them is two weeks because we don’t want to encourage them to take a nice long month recovery,” said Sonia Quintero, a teacher in the GRADS program.

For more than 20 years, New Mexico has offered the GRADS, or graduate reality and dual-role skills, program. The program is specialized to help teen parents.

With the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, school officials said it’s a priority to keep teen parents from dropping out.

“If I didn’t have this program I think Iwouldn’t be in school right now,” said Alejandra Torres, 17.

Torres had a baby a year ago. She’s set to graduate this year, and she said it’s all thanks to the support from the GRADS program.

“It’s like a big family. They help me through everything besides school too,” she told ABC-7.

GRADS teachers provide teen parents support and education in and out of the classroom. Some schools, including Oate and Las Cruces High, offer teen parents a nursery on campus.

“I don’t have to be worrying about who’s going totake care of my baby. They really encourage us to good and graduate,” Torres said.

“It’s helped me with my grades. I’ve picked up my grades a lot and I got student of the month and I’m doing really good,” said Bailey McNutt, another teen mom at Oate High.

Quintero said the GRADS program is a huge benefit to the state overall.

“We are not a program to try to advocate in any way and promote pregnancy at all. It’s something we can’t turn our back to. It’s there. It’s an issue that our society has and we have to deal with it,” Quintero said.

Several teen moms told ABC-7 the program keeps them motivated to graduate and be successful.

“I want to go to college so I can do good and show her that peoplestill can do it. You don’t just have to give up just because you’re ateen parent,” McNutt said.

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