By Bobby Pepper/Lee County Neighbors
NETTLETON – Diarra Giddens was handed “Desmond,” a 1-month-old baby boy, on a Wednesday and told to take care of his every need until the next Monday.
When Monday arrived, a tired Giddens was eager to hand him back.
“I couldn’t get any sleep at night,” said Giddens, a Nettleton High School freshman. “It woke up every 10 to 15 minutes.”
“Desmond” isn’t a real baby. It’s a computerized infant simulator that has the lifelike look, weight, emotions and sounds of a month-old child.
Giddens, 15, and his classmates in Jackie Allmond’s child development class at Nettleton High School each took home a simulator to get firsthand experience of feeding, burping, rocking and diapering a baby around the clock.
“The babies are programmed like a newborn would be with their schedule,” said Allmond, whose class is part of the school’s family/consumer science program. “It’s a good opportunity for the kids to feel the responsibility of being a parent without endangering new babies. It’s a wake-up call to the students.”
Allmond first began delivering the Realityworks RealCare babies to her students in 2003. The students learn how to balance their lives between parenting and other activities and responsibilities.
“They’re having to do classwork,” Allmond said. “Some of them have jobs and some are in sports. They have to learn how to juggle all of that.”
The students receive a project grade that counts the same as a test, Allmond said.
While caring for the interactive baby, each student fills out a “baby book” to list the child’s every action and what was done for it. The simulator program monitors all care, records neglected care opportunities and any abuse or mishandling.
“You have to document when you feed it, when it cries,” said freshman Jonteesha Ruff, 15, who was the mother of “Nikki” during the project. “It irritated me when it woke up in the middle of the night at different hours.”
Lynn Edwards, an 18-year-old junior who cared for “Kaylee,” said the project is a humbling introduction to parenting.
“It was a learning experience,” she said. “Once you figure out (the baby), it’ll get quiet and then it’ll start over again. A real baby is a lot harder to take care of.”
Edwards’ advice to fellow teens: “Don’t have a baby at a young age. I have friends who’ve had kids, and it doesn’t seem easy at all.”