For a week in high school, many of us remember smelling like flour and leaving dusty fingerprints everywhere as we lugged around that five-pound flour baby. While this has been a common exercise for decades, the question remains: Is it effective in persuading students from having children early on? That’s what Melody Trauthwein, math and science teacher at Sligo Adventist School (Takoma Park, Md.) set out to find through a weeklong science simulation for the 7th graders.
“We began the week with a discussion of anatomy and human sexuality in a Biblical framework and the consequences of sexual activity, specifically pregnancy,” said Trauthwein. “After learning about the stages of pregnancy and wearing sympathy packs for a day, a backpack worn on the front filled with 5 – 10 pounds of material, students were eager to take on the responsibilities for themselves.” After watching a video of a normal birth as well as a C-section, many students immediately want to call their mothers to tell how much they appreciate what it took to bring them into the world. The next step in this experiment was giving each student their “baby,” who must be under their care for a full week.
The babies, donated by Trauthwein’s father six years ago, are actual dolls filled with rice and weigh just under three pounds. Each student is required to keep a diary of the experience and answer daily questions about the project. They must include feeding times and anytime they used a babysitter. Perhaps the most challenging parts of the project are the dreaded ‘Baby Calls.’
“To simulate getting up for night feedings or crying, the students have designated times to call me and leave a message on the voice mail,” she explained. “Times can range from early in the morning to the middle of the night. This is usually the point when they start deciding that a baby is a bad idea at this time.”
Some babies have randomly selected health issues, such as a heart murmur and fetal alcohol syndrome, that student must research and share with the class. Students must treat the babies as they would a real infant. Behavior that would result in injury to a real child can result in a trip to Child Protective Services, Sligo’s language teacher, Yolande Melbourne. Students may be asked to research and write about the medical consequences of dropping or abandoning the child. The whole school helps to keep an eye out for the welfare of the babies.
Students don’t just learn about carrying and watching after a baby, they also learn about the financial responsibility of parenthood. “Some of the topics we discussed were banking and managing your credit, completing a resume, job applications, apartment rental applications, health insurance and taxes,” said Trauthwein. “The math portion of the grade is based on a budget where students must try to find a way to live on the type of job available without a high school diploma. This includes budgeting for housing, tithe, food, insurance, transportation, child care and other needs. At this point, the students are quite sure that they do not want to have a child until they are older.”
The end of the project is bittersweet. Some are sad to see their babies go back on the shelf, but they all experience a sense of relief that the responsibilities that have weighed them down are lifted. As Anna Karla Carreno, now a freshman at Takoma Academy (Takoma Park, Md.) wrote in her diary, “I learned a LOT. I learned what tax forms are . . .how to wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby. . . that babies are fragile. . .and that I don’t want one until I am married and out of college!” Faculty at Sligo say amen to that! May it be so for all of them!