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Garfield County’s unintended teen pregnancy rate falls by half since 2009

Arn Menconi, a Garfield County Personal Responsibility Education Program Manager, speaks with students in Maggie Riley's health class at Bridges High School.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Ever since comprehensive sexual education was implemented in schools across Garfield County, the unintended local teen pregnancy rate has fallen by half, according to a Garfield County youth health specialist.

“This is clearly one of the most effective ways of helping our young people with health, both physical and mental,” Arn Menconi, a Garfield County Personal Responsibility Education Program Manager, said.

Menconi, who’s worked in youth development nationally for 20 years, works with 16 middle schools and high schools across Garfield County. About 2,500 students receive comprehensive sexual education courses in their curriculum.



Menconi said prior to 10 years ago, comprehensive sexual education was not taught in most schools. Back then, the unintended teen pregnancy rate was 10% for Garfield County teens.

After local schools started teaching comprehensive sexual education, that rate dropped to 5%.



“(Comprehensive sexual education) started because Garfield County had some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state,” Menconi said.

Education courses primarily cover health risks, Menconi said. They cover subjects like abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases and consent, among others.

“Consent is a very, very important basic of the courses,” Menconi said. “This starts in sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade and then again in high school.”

Though parents have the option of opting their kids out of comprehensive sexual education, most don’t. In fact, Menconi said about 95% of parents keep their kids in the courses.

“Teens are facing so many different types of problems, whether it’s addiction, suicide ideation, depression. It’s reported that one in four women are sexually abused,” he said. “So comprehensive sex ed and positive healthy relationships are trying to address all of those types of problems in a positive way.”

This past summer, Menconi had interns work on a new, online learning management system for teens by teens on comprehensive sexual health called Causewell.org. The website officially launched in August.

Glenwood Springs High School graduate Pilar Melendez was one of these interns. She is currently pursuing a double major in international affairs and political science at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“We started out kind of thinking that it was going to be like a summer internship,” Melendez said. “We didn’t really think it was going to go beyond the summer, but it ended up being that way because Arn Menconi had the great idea to build something that is reusable and free.”

Prior to graduating, Melendez did a high school project highlighting River Bridge, an advocacy center in Glenwood Springs. The organization brings awareness to sexual assault, harassment and child abuse.

When it comes to these subjects, she’s passionate. The passion also shows in relation to comprehensive sexual education, which she said only helps teens.

“I think specifically in Garfield County, it helps remove the stigma of sexual education,” Melendez said. “Because for a long time, even when I was in middle school and partly throughout high school, there’s always a stigma.”

Zoe Vozick, 19, also interned with Menconi this past summer and helped with the website. The 2020 Basalt High School graduate is studying social justice and human rights at George Mason University.

“The reason that I wanted to get involved in this project was to empower young students, especially young girls, to listen to themselves, listen to their desires, learn to express that with their friends, their family, themselves, their partners,” Vozick said. “I just wanted to inspire the younger generation to find a voice and communicate it in a positive manner.”

Vozick said the goal of the project is to target teens taking health classes.

“The biggest target of ours is the community who does not have parents who are active and involved in having conversations with (teens) about their options,” she said. “We don’t take an approach of abstinence, we don’t take an approach of like pro-sex. Everything we do is the choice of the user, and we stress that so we want to just create a healthy conversation for every student, if they are not getting that at home.”

With the new learning management system now launched, Vozick wants it to decrease unintended teen pregnancy even more.

“Since Garfield County PREP has become involved within the past 10 years, there’s been a decrease of 5% of teen pregnancy,” she said. “We are hoping to get that number down even more through this new learning management system.”

Colorado health information data set

2019

• 753 births in Garfield County

• 27 were between ages 18-19

• 11 were between ages 15-17

2009

• 964 births in Garfield County

• 59 were between ages 18-19

• 28 were between ages 15-17

• 136 had no high school diploma or no GED. 188 had a high school diploma or GED.

• Garfield County has seen a 15% decrease of live births per 1,000 women since it’s high in 2007. In 2007, the Crude Birth Rate was 45.7%, and in 2019 it was 29.5%. (Crude Birth is a total of live births per 1,000 women.)

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com


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