Teens and Childbearing A Lesson from Our Bilingual Curriculum

Understanding the societal factors that influence fertility is one of the themes addressed in PopEd’s curricula for secondary grades (6-12). Especially relevant to this age group is a discussion of teen pregnancy and how it can affect all of the future choices young people—especially women—will make.

Back in 2000, PopEd published Nuestro Mundo, Nuestro Futuro (Our World, Our Future), a bilingual curriculum of eight middle school teaching activities for use in classrooms here and abroad. In adapting the activities for cultural relevance, we received help from reviewers in Latino communities and advocacy organizations around the country.

This year, we published a new, expanded edition of Nuestro Mundo, downloadable for free from our website. Though 17 years have passed since its first publication, the activity that follows, “Maria’s Education,” remains part of the curriculum.

Teen pregnancy and birth rates have fallen dramatically among all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. in recent years. Still, the Latina teen birth rate is more than one and a half times higher than the overall teen birth rate. As a result, the high school dropout rate is also considerably higher for Latinas (9.3 percent in 2014, compared to 5.9 percent for all teen girls).

“Maria’s Education” (La Educación de María)


In this activity, students consider how the education of girls can determine their fertility decisions. In the United States, children are required to be in school until age 16 (unless they are home-schooled), but many students drop out before finishing high school. Without a high school diploma, young people’s employment options are limited and they may not be able to earn enough money to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle for themselves and their families. Studies show that girls who stay in school tend to delay marriage and childbearing because they have other options like college and careers.


Give students several minutes to read the short dialogue and go over the Discussion Questions either as a class or in small groups.


It was a beautiful early fall day and Teresa decided to take the long way home from school. She wanted to pass by the house of her friend, Maria, whom she hadn’t seen in many weeks. School just wasn’t the same without Maria. They used to do their homework together, share clothes, and talk about boys until late into the evening.

Over the summer, Maria had a baby. Now she devotes all of her time to little Miguelito and has dropped out of school at age 16. Teresa was surprised when she learned that Maria was pregnant last winter. She knew Maria had a boyfriend, José, but thought her friend would wait until they finished high school (and maybe even college) before she started a family of her own. Teresa had imagined them graduating together next spring, the first girls in their families to get diplomas. Now as she approached Maria’s house, she saw her on the porch, rocking Miguelito to sleep.

Maria’s eyes lit up when she spotted Teresa walking toward the house. “What’s up, Teresa?” she asked in a loud whisper, trying not to rouse the baby. “I haven’t seen you in so long. I thought you forgot about us.”

“Don’t be silly,” replied Teresa. “I’ve just been so busy with the beginning of the school year. How’s motherhood?”

“It’s OK, I guess, but a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong. I love Miguelito but never realized how much babies depend on you for everything. My mom helps a lot, but when she’s at work, it’s just me and the baby and my little sister at home. José comes over sometimes to play with the baby, but he doesn’t like to change diapers. So what are you doing at school?”

“Studying for the college entrance exams. The test is next month.” Teresa wants to be a teacher and her guidance counselor is helping her to prepare for college.

“Yeah. I might finish school some day when Miguelito is a little older. Right now, though, I need to concentrate on family. Mama says that babies are blessings from God.”

Teresa saw Maria’s mother often. She was a cook in the school cafeteria. Whenever she saw Teresa, she gushed about her new grandson. “You must come around to see Miguelito more often, Teresa. He is such a smart, beautiful baby.” Miguelito was her first grandson, although Maria’s sister, Linda, already had three daughters. Linda, too, had left school early, but never returned.

How unlike her own mother, Teresa thought. Both of Teresa’s parents loved babies, but told her that she had plenty of time to have a family. Now she must focus on getting a good education, so that she can support herself and find a job she loves, instead of having to settle for something. Teresa’s mother had to leave school after sixth grade to help take care of younger siblings. She wants her daughter to have opportunities she never had. That’s why she and Teresa’s father came to the United States in the first place. In their native Guatemala, Teresa and her brothers would have grown up poor and may not have had the chance to finish school. Girls, especially, are often kept home from school to help with the babies and household chores. Here in the U.S., girls have so many choices, if only they complete school and work hard at their studies.

Maria offered the baby to Teresa to hold while she went inside to get them something to drink. Teresa looked at the sleeping child and smiled. Someday she would have this too, she thought, but there was no hurry. She wondered if her friend would ever go back to school.

  • How do you think Maria’s and Teresa’s futures might differ based on the choices they have already made by age 16?
  • Which girl would you expect might have more children? Explain.
  • How do the attitudes of their mothers differ regarding young parenthood? What might account for these differences?
  • How might José’s experience be similar to or different from Maria’s? Do you think becoming a parent will affect his future this same way? Explain.
Global Connections

Each of us makes our own decisions about how many children to have based on a variety of influences: cultural and family traditions, income, career choices, etc. Collectively, our decisions determine how the population of our country and of the world grows or declines. Worldwide, the average woman has 2.5 children. This average is based on a wide range—from a low of 1.3 children in Spain to a high of 7.6 children in Niger. Education plays a significant role.

Contact Pamela at pwasserman@popconnect.org.

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