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Healthy Teens Coalition celebrates dropping teen pregnancy rates

BRADENTON -- Manatee County has made strides in helping teen pregnancy rates drop in the last few years, but there's still more work to be done, according to the Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County.

Live birth rates to teens have dropped 38 percent in Manatee County between 2011 and 2014, according to the coalition. The rate of repeat births stands at 13 per every 1,000 births to a teen mother in Manatee County. The state average is seven.

Manatee County rates are still above the state average for teen pregnancies and the rate of repeat births to teen moms.

The Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County celebrated Tuesday the progress made with a teen health educator graduation and an award ceremony for community volunteers at the Renaissance on 9th. The 5-year-old organization targets teens and works to inform them so they can make healthy choices. The coalition uses teen health educators to speak with their peers.

"Statistics show teens are much more likely to listen to their peers," said Mary Ann Legler, chairwoman of the coalition board.

The coalition honored:

Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy as Elected Official of the Year;

Former assistant superintendent Lynette Edwards as Adult of the Year;

Manatee Glens as Nonprofit of the Year; and

Willie and Marquel Simmons as Young Adults of the Year.

After an intense application and training program, teen health educators are dispatched into schools and community centers to work with other teens.

Walter Preston, an 18-year-old junior at Manatee High School; and Cara Peters, a 17-year-old junior at Manatee High School; said the program empowers them to help others.

"It helped me get a perspective of the community," Preston said. "It's not sugar-coated at all."

The teens talk health relationships, dating violence and pregnancy prevention, among other topics. It's less awkward and there's more trust when teens talk with other teens, Peters said. "They don't think you're going to force your values on them."

"It's more credible coming from us," Preston added.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.

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