As he’s helped teach a special class to seventh-grade students at Pekin’s Edison Junior High School, Principal Bill Heisel has watched boys snicker and girls turn embarrassed. That’s one of the lessons’ results.

Another product of the federally funded Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program, Heisel and its supporters believe, is its role in a steep decline in birth rates among Tazewell County teenagers.

The rate dropped by 57 percent in Tazewell over the 2007-16 decade, deeper than the nationwide and Illinois 50-percent levels and the 41 percent mark in Peoria County, government-collected statistics show.

Teen births fell from 10.3 percent of total births in Tazewell in 2007 to 4.4 percent in 2016, the last year statistics were available. In Peoria County, they dipped from 13.3 percent to 7.8 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Births to teens have declined by 67 percent across the nation since their peak level in 1991. The drop was steady but slow, however, until two developments emerged as this decade began.

In 2009, medication to quickly cease pregnancy, known as the morning-after pill, became available over the counter to teens under controlled terms, said Dr. Nancy Amos, assistant professor of social work at Bradley University in Peoria.

The next year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) began providing grants for local agencies, including the Tazewell County Health Department, to provide TPP education programs showing students how unplanned parenthood can change their lives.

“We push (sexual) abstinence,” Heisel said. “But we also discuss birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, peer pressure. There’s a lot of kids who never considered what can happen” in a sexual relationship.

A health educator hired with a $46,000 TPP grant to the Tazewell health department in 2016 saw 1,406 students, “mostly in junior highs” that school year, said department spokeswoman Sara Sparkman. “She discussed self-esteem and setting goals for life,” and how teen parenthood can derail them, said Sparkman.

“We felt the (TPP) program has had a great impact” in Tazewell’s teen birth rate drop, Sparkman said.

That federal funding for it, however, may cease after this school year.

The federal DHHS is funding $3.9 million in two equal categories of TPP grants to Illinois program participants this school year. It will cancel at least one of those categories in June, said Patrick Laughlin, deputy director of communications for the Illinois Department of Human Services, which administers the state’s grants.

The remaining category funds the TPP program in Tazewell. “A decision has not yet been made that we’ve heard” on whether it will continue, Laughlin said.

Amos, who’s extensively studied adolescent motherhood and also practices social work in the field, recognizes the connection between sex education and the impact of “better contraceptives and more access to them” over the past decade.

She cited a recent study, however, that points to the latter as “by far the major factor” in teen birth rate declines.

“The Lindberg Study,” for chief author Dr. Laura Lindberg, concluded that contraceptives "accounted for 106 percent of the teen pregnancy rate decline” between 2007-12, Amos said.

According to the study, “That 106 percent accounts for a 6-percent increase in sexual activity” among teens in those years, she said.

That nationwide trend aside, Heisel said he believes the TPP program has benefitted Edison’s students.

If funding for the program were to end, “We will continue it here” he said. “It’s valuable enough for us to make that happen.”