Area middle school students have the opportunity to discover the trials of parenthood through the "Baby Think It Over" program.
"The experience is so valuable to the students," said Joe Gerber, Clay City Jr/Sr High School health instructor. "Some students come back looking forward to having and raising a family, while others say they will never have children."
"Baby Think It Over" is an innovative program designed to help young people experience the consequences of teen pregnancy. Both male and female students participate in the program to understand three important facts about infants:
1. Caring for a baby is a demanding and unpredictable job that requires an infant's needs to be met promptly.
2. Being a parent requires a great deal of time and devotion.
3. Once you have a child, your life is forever changed.
Local schools assign the doll babies over a weekend, at least two days and nights, so that students can experience what it is like being a new parent.
"When the dolls are assigned, many of the students can't wait to choose their baby," Gerber said. "But the students don't get to choose the sex of their child. It's a surprise just like parents get in real life."
Students receive birth certificates with the names they have chosen for their babies, diaper bags filled with all the needed supplies for the weekend and carriers to transport the babies safely.
"They can't wait to get started in the beginning," Gerber said of the experience which is made as real as possible because of the doll's programing. Some students come back with a different opinion.
The infant simulators have anatomically correct, lifelike vinyl bodies that measure 21 inches long and weigh approximately seven pounds. The babies have emotions that range from easy-going to cranky and require head support at all times as they unpredictably cry at times, day and night.
A tamper-resistant electronic box inside the doll monitors neglect and rough handling while a student cares for the baby. A tamper-resistant electronic bracelet that has a tending probe attached is also placed on the student-parent's arm to insure that only they can care for the doll during the assigned time.
Many students experience sleep deprivation from the baby waking them throughout the night for feedings, diaper changes or attention from the student as in a real parenting situation. But not only the students are affected by "Baby Think It Over."
"We have had circumstances where even the (students') parents complained about the baby crying throughout the night," Gerber said of the students' participation, which is not graded but only provided as a lesson in life.
"Jamie Dee kinda got annoying," said eighth-grader Jayci Bryan of her long weekend experience with the infant simulators. "It made me realize I'm not having a baby until I'm married, and have a spouse who wants to help take care of a child."
"Baby Think It Over" is used in conjunction with the Peers Educating Peers (PEP) about Positive Values program at Clay City Jr/Sr High School and at North Clay Middle School.