Standing in a bathroom stall, a teenage girl glances down at a pregnancy test that will have a huge impact on the rest of her life. After the longest two minutes of her life, two lines appear on the screen. She is pregnant.
She chooses to parent her child, but she is filled with anxiety about what will come next. How will the Archer administration and community take it?
Head of School Elizabeth English says that to the best of her knowledge, Archer has not dealt with any teenage pregnancies. Since no precedent has been set, Archer’s proceedings in this type of situation are unclear.
Dean of Students Travis Nesbitt believes this to be deliberate.
“I think it’s intentional that we don’t have a policy laid out. That leaves us some flexibility to make the right judgment call in the moment if that were to happen,” he said.
English feels that a supportive approach would be best option. She said that while there is no specific policy for pregnancy, “we do have policies about students who need to go on medical leave for any reason whatsoever. It’s always our impulse to support the student.”
English clarified that she speaks for herself and not on behalf of the senior administration. She said that the issue has never come up during her administration, and she has not discussed it with the senior administration.
“My impulse for any student who found herself pregnant and gave birth, if she wanted to come back to Archer, we would do whatever we could to support that student,” English said.
She clarified that Archer’s level of support can only go so far. Archer doesn’t have the resources to have an in-house daycare system, for example.
“In terms of doing whatever we could to help the student graduate if that was her intent, then we would do do that — in my opinion. That would be my recommendation as the Head of School,” she said.
She clarified that her opinion was not the only one that would be taken into account.
“When we encounter a circumstance where there isn’t a clearcut policy, I never ever make a decision on my own. It’s always in close consultation with the other educational leaders in the school.”
Nesbitt shared a similar sentiment on how he imagines a situation would be addressed.
“When any question like this arrises I always come back to our school’s culture and our mission and also to our honor code,” he said. “I think some core tenants of the honor code include being respectful and being empathetic. In that situation, that’s where I would go first. I would go to a place of consideration and a place of empathy.”
English spoke of the importance of education for teenage mothers.
“I feel that education is absolutely critical because how do you ever ascend so that you can support yourself and your child? I mean it’s just elemental to me,” she said.
The national teen birth rate per 1000 teens is 24.2, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. When asked why Archer’s rate (of zero) is substantially lower by comparison, English credited educational aspirations of Archer families as well as Archer’s sexual education program in the Human Development (HD) class.
“[The fact that there have been no births] isn’t to say that no student at Archer has never been pregnant. I think that more likely my guess is that the reason is — first of all — that your families are families that have very high educational expectations for all of you,” English said.
She feels that becoming pregnant can impede a girls’ educational journey, even if her school and family are supportive. Additionally, Archer works from a young age to inform girls about contraception.
“I do think that in HD we talk very forthrightly about reproductive health, and as a girls’ school we have a responsibility to do that. Part of the discussion of reproductive health is birth control and ensuring that you get pregnant only when you want to get pregnant,” English said.
Kristen Benjamin heads the Human Development program at Archer. She explained the goals of the sexuality component of HD.
“Our goal with the human sexuality units is to teach factual information across the board and to have students make healthy and informed decisions. We’re not trying to push one side or another on an issue, we just want to make sure we give the facts correctly and we present these facts in a variety of ways in hopes that girls will be informed and be able to make decisions on their own,” Benjamin said.
She also added that teachers of HD are educated by Planned Parenthood. “I think it’s naive to just assume that people aren’t going to act on certain feelings, and so I think that we do a really good job of giving the tools and the education to prevent teen pregnancy,” Benjamin said.
In English’s view, it’s only natural that the school’s spirit of support would translate to this situation.
“For me it’s really kind of simple — if we accept a student into our community and she’s a student in good standing and she has not done anything either to violate our standards of expectations either academically or socially in terms of our honor code — we would support that student,” she said.