As a result of the research I do for my blogs, I have the opportunity to read a variety of interesting, disturbing, and touching stories. I share the ones that speak to me and that I think will speak to you as well. With that in mind, I am anxious to share this unusual story with you from Yakima, Washington.
It is an unbelievable story about a young girl who wanted to find out what life is like for a pregnant high school student; an experiment to find out what kind of stereotypes and rumors such a young lady faces.
Gaby Rodriguez, a 17-year old senior and an A-student at Toppenish High School, convinced her mother, her boyfriend of three years, and her principal and the school district’s superintendent to join her in this incredible social experiment; pretending that she was pregnant in order to find out first-hand how she would be treated by her family, fellow students, and teachers.
Her idea was conceived her sophomore year in her AP biology class, which was taught by Shawn Myers. And she was further spurred by the research she completed which stated that Black and Hispanic teens have higher pregnancy rates than white teens. This really hit home for her since about 85% of the teens at Toppenish High School are Hispanic.
Her experiment was met with much trepidation by those to whom she confided. Her mother, Juana Rodriguez said she thought it was crazy, and worried about lying to family members about the fake pregnancy. Yet, even though she admits it didn’t feel good, she supported her daughter, who received some necessary mentoring from Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital’s Childbirth Education Program to help her carry off her “pregnancy.”
And how did her 20-year old boyfriend, Jorge Orozco, feel about it? “I thought she was nuts,” Jorge said, “I thought I was going to end up getting into problems with her brothers. I didn’t really want to get into problems with anybody.” In spite of his concerns, he went along with Gaby’s plans because, he said, “I was doing it for her.”
Gaby approached Principal Trevor Greene about her project last spring worried that he would not let her proceed. He admits that he was impressed with her determination but also very shocked. “I heard her out,” he says. “I listened to her presentation, her proposal. And then I went through all the difficulties I foresaw to making this happen.”
Greene shared his concerns that people might talk about her behind her back, her older brothers might want to beat up her boyfriend, there might even by broken relationships when family members, other students, and teachers in the school found out the truth. “None of that deterred her,” Greene says.
He told her that before she could proceed, she would need to get the okay from the superintendent, which she did. And the experiment was launched.
In this, her senior year, Gaby convinced people in both her family and in her school that she had gotten pregnant at homecoming, and for six and a half months, she carried on the charade, even replacing the loose, baggy sweaters and sweatshirts for a fake baby bump when she returned from spring break.
Gaby confessed, “At times, I just wanted to take it off and be done. I didn’t want to go through this anymore.”
On Monday of last week, Gaby confessed to Shawn Myers and two women teachers at her school that she was not pregnant and asked for their help at her presentation to the school on Wednesday. Their reactions were mixed: the women were relieved, but Myers said, “She kept talking, and it did not register. Then I just kind of leaned forward and said, `Are you serious?’ I told her, `You’ve run a great value experiment. You couldn’t tell anybody because you had to control the variables.’”
But, Myers also admitted afterwards, “When you’re running a social experiment, you’re dealing with human emotions. The human person in me felt I had been lied to.”
His human reaction is understandable. He admitted that when Gaby told him she was pregnant, he wasn’t disappointed, “just concerned” He says he wondered: “How are we going to take all of the potential that’s in this girl and make sure it manifests itself and not let this define who she is and let it be a roadblock to what she wants to accomplish?”
The experiment culminated in an all-school assembly this past Wednesday. Superintendent John Cerna rushed back from the west side of the state, leaving at 5:30 A.M. in order to be at the school for her 10:15 appearance. “I wouldn’t miss this,” Cerna said. ”It’s amazing that a young lady would take this challenge on. It was a well-kept secret.”
The topic of Gaby’s presentation was “Stereotypes, Rumors, and Statistics. “ Gaby admits she was very worried about how the audience would react when they heard the truth, but before she revealed the secret she had been carrying for the last six and a half months, she told the audience, “Many things were said about me. Many things traveled all the way back to me.” She then had several students and teachers in the audience read actual statements people had made about her through the course of the experiment.
Saida Cortes, Gaby’s best friend, read this statement from one of the cards: “Her attitude is changing, and it might be because of the baby or she was always this annoying and I never realized it.” Other comments focused on how irresponsible she was, that she wouldn’t continue her education at college, “it was bound to happen anyway”, “I knew she was going to get pregnant”, and “doesn’t she know she just ruined her life?”
After the cards were read, Gaby admitted that some students had left her feeling alone and ashamed because of her pregnancy. Then, in a highly emotional moment, she removed her fake baby bump announcing, “I’m fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I’m not pregnant.”
I can only imagine the astonishment the students and teachers must have felt after this announcement. Gaby apologized for misleading them over the last six and a half months, and after her speech, and a time for questions and answers, the audience did something Principal Greene said had never happened in the three years he has been at Toppenish High School; they gave Gaby a standing ovation!
Principal Greene summarized this social experiment in this way: “In essence, she gave up her senior year. She sacrificed her senior year to find out what it would be like to be a potential teen mom. I admire her courage. I admire her preparation. I give her mother a lot of credit for backing her up on this.”
But, the principal continued, “I have a daughter that will be here next year, and I would not let her do it.”
Gaby said, “Teenagers tend to live in the shadows of these elements.” And they do. A teenager’s world is highly attuned to rumors and stereotypes; it is what powers most teenagers to do what they do, wear what they wear, like who they like, and say what they say. The shadow of rumors and stereotypes can make or break young people who are so socially conscious.
I commend Gaby for her willingness to sacrifice the majority of her senior year to point out to her peers that they must see beyond the rumors and stereotypes to the real person buried underneath.
Gaby’s next step is to present her research to a board of community members in May, including photos and videos from Wednesday’s assembly. And she will also need to finish her report on this social experiment. And Gaby is looking forward to attending her prom with her boyfriend minus a baby bump.
Gaby also plans to attend Columbia Basin College, where she plans to study social work or sociology. She also is clear about one important thing: “I’m not planning to have a child until after I graduate.”
Good for her! And good for her that she may have opened some judgmental eyes through her experiment! This is a girl who took a huge risk and made difficult sacrifices in order to teach people tolerance. Let’s hope the lesson took!