Part of Gateway Community School's curriculum for young mothers is an elective class called "Peers Educating Peers." For five credits, students travel to junior and senior high schools to warn about the pitfalls of teen-age parenthood.
It is not the school's easiest class.
Discussing intimate details in front of dozens of leering young men can be nerve-racking, said Penny Nall, 18, whose child was born 2 1/2 years ago.
"You get paranoid because all those people are staring at you. It's scary because, obviously, we've done something."
That something is what these teens are trained by school counselors to talk about. "I didn't want a baby," Michelle, a slender, porcelain-faced 15-year-old from Ventura, told the predominantly male audience at Moorpark Community High School. Then, with a smile, she admitted: "Well, I did.
"I thought if I had a baby, we'd be a little family. We'd go to the park. We'd change her diapers. But it's not like that. My boyfriend and I, we're not together anymore."
Gateway senior Sheila Macias of Oxnard, completing her high school education at the age of 23, echoed Michelle's hard-luck tale.
"I have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old," said Macias, who is separated from her husband. "Scary, huh?"
At least one youth in the audience took the lessons to heart. He asked what he should do about his girlfriend, who had stopped taking birth-control pills and did not let him know. Now, he confided, she may be pregnant.
"Hey," Nall blurted. "Don't blow your life because she's being stubborn."
As other Moorpark students talked about their sexual activities, the Gateway women listened. When they spoke, however, their message was clear. They talked about how to get birth-control pills and about IUDs, and about the pros and cons of condoms.
"Protect yourself, and talk about it more," one girl said. "If you can't talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend about sex, then you shouldn't be having it."
The informal, noontime discussion stirred Michelle's memory.
"I prayed to God in the hospital," she recalled. "I said, 'Please, God, if the doctor says I'm not pregnant, I swear I'll never do it again.'
"The doctor came in and told me I was pregnant. I thought, 'Oh, my, He knew I was lying.' "