A 24-7 job: Students experience parenthood via a doll

By Greg Gelpi

Homework took on a life of its own for some Mt. Zion High School students, who recently experienced life as mothers and fathers.

Members of the Transitions class lived life as parents for two weeks, caring for electronic dolls, which simulated real babies.

"It was a good experience, but it was a tough experience," Latoya Ivory said. "I like to get my sleep. I'm not ready to have a baby yet."

All of the students agreed that it was best to wait.

The electronic babies required around the clock care and supervision, crying at random times for as long as 30-minutes.

"When I went to the store, people thought it was a real baby," said Ivory who found the assignment especially difficult when she played tennis.

"I was afraid it would start crying," she said.

A device inside the dolls recorded how the teen "parents" did during the two-week project. It recorded how often students held the baby incorrectly, mistreated the baby and how long the baby was allowed to cry before being attended to.

Tramaries Adkinson, a Mt. Zion football player, said the 9-pound doll baby grew heavy after a day of carrying it around.

The students weren't allowed to pass the baby to someone else.

"(Wednesday) I had to take my baby to the weight room," Adkinson said, adding that other athletes gave him a hard time.

Shukeshia Leverett, who had the crankiest baby in the class, said it made her imagine having a real baby in her arms.

Teacher Liz Bryant took one of the babies home to experience it herself.

Bryant, who has a 20-year-old daughter, discovered how realistic the project was when she was awakened at 2:45 a.m. by a crying baby.

"I realized it's going to be a valuable experience," she said. "I think they learned what I wanted them to learn, that they're not ready."

Along with carrying the baby around, the Transitions students learned to develop a year-long budget for caring for a real baby. The class studied the roles and responsibilities of family members, sexually transmitted diseases, immunization and child abuse.

"One parent asked if they could keep the babies for six months through the rest of the year," Bryant said.

About 840,000 American teens between 15 and 19 became pregnant in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported about 23,700 pregnancies of girls under the age of 15 that same year.

In 2001, Georgia was tied for the sixth highest rate of pregnancies for teens between the ages of 15 and 19.