By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Dallas’ teen birth rates are higher than the national average, with certain ZIP codes having even higher rates, according to the statistics from the city of Dallas. The Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty also identified teen pregnancy as one of the major drivers of poverty.
In an effort to help combat the issue, the Dallas City Council approved funding during its Sept. 25 meeting for two programs that can help. Council members voted in favor of authorizing two one-year service contracts for teen pregnancy prevention/youth development programs with After-School All-Stars in the amount of $125,000.00 and Just Say YES – Youth Equipped to Succeed – in the amount of $125,000.00.
After-School All-Stars program was awarded the funding to help students and their families at Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy and Life School Oak Cliff Secondary Academy with youth development and teen pregnancy prevention programming.
The after-school program focuses on these schools because they each have several risk factors present for academic underperformance and teen pregnancy, according to Nadia Chandler-Hardy, assistant city manager and chief resilience officer for the city of Dallas.
“The two schools targeted have 90% and 79% economically disadvantaged and 86% and 65% of their students considered “at risk” respectively,” Chandler-Hardy said.
The program plans to partner with the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens in order to connect teens and their parents to pregnancy prevention outreach services.
Just Say YES was awarded the funding to help with teen pregnancy programs in the West Dallas, Oak Cliff and Victory Meadows area schools.
“Just Say Yes – Youth Equipped to Succeed – was awarded this money in order to provide educational programming to teens, with a focus on building knowledge and skills needed to graduate high school without becoming teen parents, workforce training opportunities and connect them with services, programs and resources to reduce their likelihood of becoming teen parents by helping them achieve their full potential,” Chandler-Hardy said. “In addition to targeting youth ages 20 and younger, youth living in poverty, the program will also make a special effort to reach foster care youth, youth in the juvenile justice system and homeless youth.”
Jessica Galleshaw, director of the Office of Community Care for the city of Dallas, explained the background and history of the issue.
“This item is a continuation of the $300,000 that was first allocated in the fiscal year of 2018,” Galleshaw said. “That funding was awarded to the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens, targeting a campaign that really was built out where they were developing materials for paid social media outreach and other things to do educational outreach and public awareness in order to target teen pregnancy prevention. We were looking at 2019, and we wanted to do something that would support teens in a little bit of a different way. So we retargeted the funding to have a youth development component, because research shows that youth who have a clear picture of their future and feel like they are really working toward something are much less likely to engage in risky behavior and much less likely to end up pregnant. This was allocated in that way so that we can continue to support the outreach, but primarily these two contracts are focusing on the youth on healthy decision making, positive choices, meaningful relationships, social and emotional learning, leadership and peer connectedness.”
Both programs will also have a peer mentoring model and specialized development assessment tools.
Council member Carolyn King Arnold of District 4 was concerned about the lack of diversity represented on the board of After-School All-Stars, who have 17 board members, of which there are three African American members, one Latino member, one Asian and the rest White.
“The district as it relates to Dallas ISD, Latinos are predominant, but the board side doesn’t reflect the diversity,” Arnold said. “That is one concern I have is that if we are going to put money into these programs, it’s all about building relationships, and if you can’t relate then you can’t move the program, the needle, so you just end up spending money. I am for the educational component of this, and I think it would best serve DISD because I know their population and I know they are in a better position to make that investment. I will not vote for this project.”
Council member Lee Kleinman of District 11 also voted against this measure.
“Just advertising abstinence, I just cannot honestly believe that that’s not going to have any success or move the needle,” Kleinman said. “And quite honestly, colleagues, this is out of our wheelhouse. Our job is to pick up the trash, provide public safety, give clean water, not socially engineer. Education is the job of the schools, the parents, and this amount of money I can’t even imagine that it will make a difference.”
Council member Adam Bazaldua of District 7 disagreed with Kleinman and Arnold and supported this item on the agenda.
“This has been identified as one of the nine drivers of poverty and it is our job to invest in our next generation,” Bazaldua. “The most efforts we can put into to address the root causes of poverty is how we are going to reimagine public safety.”
Council member Omar Narvaez of District 6 also supported the measure.
“If we are able to mentor our youth and make sure they get the support they are not able to get because of the area they happen to live in, and don’t have the opportunities to succeed and get out of that poverty, which ends up causing and creating more children to end up in the school-to- prison pipeline, and that is something we can no longer accept as a council and as a city,” Narvaez said. “We must be in partnership with our schools site within the city of Dallas, whether its Dallas ISD, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Irving ISD and Richardson ISD. Every one of those school districts have children that are faced with issues and situations that they sometimes cannot overcome. When it comes to teenage pregnancy, the state of Texas is at the highest level of teenage pregnancy and the highest level of repeat teenage pregnancy. This is one of our drivers of poverty and we must address this.”
In other city news, former Dallas Mavericks all-star NBA player and champion, Dirk Nowitzki, was honored by the city.
The City Council voted in favor of changing the name of Olive Street, between North Field Street and Victory Avenue, to Nowitzki Way.
“When you think about someone who has made Dallas home, who has had an international impact on the city, I don’t know of a person who has made a larger impact, and as a sports figure who has become more of a humanitarian,” council member Casey Thomas of District 3 said. “As a city, let us honor someone who has honored us with his service and character on the court.”
Former Dallas Maverick and NBA champion Jason Terry, who played with Nowitzki, said this is a great way to honor a living legend.
“As great of a basketball player Dirk is, he is that much more of a human being and serves as a role model for the youth of Dallas and, yes, Nowitzki Way should be the street,” Terry said.