Week 7: Learning about teenage pregnancy in Chicago

I remember the first time I saw a friend’s sonogram picture on Facebook. We had both already graduated high school and were in our freshman year of college. I immediately took down my away message on AIM (those were the good ol’ days) and sent another friend a message in all caps freaking out about our peers getting pregnant.

By now, I’m used to the baby pictures that appear in my Facebook News Feed on a daily basis. I’m 24 and might not have baby plans of my own, but I’m no longer surpised by the announcements.

But yesterday during my 826 tutoring session at Golder College Prep, I felt that same shock I had back in college when I saw that first sonogram picture on Facebook.

One of the juniors we’re working with is writing about how teenage pregnancy can change a young girl’s life. It’s not a judgemental piece by any means and I’ve really enjoyed talking to the student about her research. Yesterday, though, she told me a pretty startling stat taken straight from her own life.

This student went to a public middle school in Chicago where she had four best friends. When she started at Golder during her freshman year, the other four friends continued onto a public school. All four of those girls were pregnant by the end of the first semester.

I don’t know these girls and I would never judge them, or infer that public school incfluenced their pregnancy, but I was still startled. We were working in groups of three at the time, and the two other female students echoed similar stories. Of course we all hear about teenage pregnancy being on the rise, but it was different to hear it while sitting in a high school classroom straight from the mouths of three teenage girls themselves.

What I’m learning more and more from working at Golder is the same lesson we’re trying to teach our students: the power of story. The power of the anecdote. You can write about research and statistics, you can make as many charts and infographics as you want, but it’s the interview that packs the punch.

This week, we played a clip for the class from a This American Life episode all about Middle School, and a few weeks ago we played a clip from the This American Life series on Harper High School. After we played the Middle School clip, we asked the students what impacted them both from each of the clips. What was the most interesting and why?

Once again, it’s the story, told by the person experiencing it instead of the interviewer, that really reaches an audience. In the Harper broadcast, the Golder students remembered specific things from a conversation between a student and their guidance counseler. In the Middle School broadcast, the Golder students connected with actual audio clips of students talking about their personal lives.

So maybe if we really want Chicagoans to see the need for change in our schools, we need to stop shoving infographics in their faces and actually to get them into the classroom, talking to the students.

Or at least get them to listen to This American Life.

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