Crib Notes, a program for young parents

Michigan aims to reduce infant mortality rates by reaching out to middle schoolers.

Published May 15, 2007 7:18PM (EDT)

We've all heard plenty about the ongoing controversy that surrounds sex education in schools. But what about programs that teach middle schoolers how to be better parents? Or, more specifically, how to reduce infant mortality.

That's the aim behind Crib Notes, a program in Pontiac, Mich., in an area that has the highest infant mortality rate in the county. According to the Detroit News Online, the program -- which is a collaborative effort between Pontiac Schools and the Oakland County Health Division -- takes a hand-selected group of boys and girls and teaches them things like how to have a healthy pregnancy, how to care for an infant and how to get out of a violent relationship. As explained by the Associated Press, it's "not a sex-education class or one that teaches about reproductive health or pregnancy. Instead, it focuses on areas that research has linked to prematurity or infant mortality, such as smoking, obesity and sleeping in unsafe positions and places."

The program leaders' hope is that this hand-selected group of students (chosen mostly for their leadership skills or because they have young siblings or children at home) will disseminate information to classmates and family members who need it -- thus helping to reduce Pontiac's infant mortality rate, which was 13.2 per 1,000 live births from 2003 to 2005.

The controversy, of course, relates to the students' age: They're in middle school. (The program's being taught to sixth and eighth graders in three separate schools.) School officials argue that it's a fine time to teach parenting skills, especially since Michigan students learn about birth control and abstinence starting in the fifth grade.

Personally, I think the age argument is a load of bull. In fact, anyone who's opposed to sex education in general should be totally psyched about these programs because they teach students about the responsibility that comes with having a child, and unprotected sex seems like a lot less fun when it results in a kid. So in some senses, it's a win-win -- people who already approve of sex education would probably also want kids to be taught how to be good parents. Those opposed to the notion of sex ed can think of these classes as a sort of "scare tactic" that makes the hypothetical consequences of unprotected sex much more real. And if the program helps lower infant mortality rates, all the better.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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