Officials at Massachusetts’ Gloucester High School were at a loss to explain why the teen pregnancy rate at their school had more than quadrupled over the past year. According to a report in the new issue of Time magazine, the dramatic increase is due, in part, to a pact among 17 girls from the school, none older than 16, who vowed to get pregnant and raise their children together.

The girls’ plan shocked parents and administrators at the 1,200-student school and sparked a still-simmering debate about contraception in the fiercely Catholic fishing town’s schools, the Boston Globe reported.

“More students are coming in and asking about pregnancy testing,” Gloucester’s public health director, Jack Vondras, told the Globe last month. “What’s odd is that some of them are disappointed because they’re not getting pregnant.” The Time article reported that at least half the pregnant teens planned to have the babies and that some high-fived each other and began planning baby showers when they found out they were expecting, while others seemed disappointed when their results came back negative. School officials began investigating the unusual spike in teen pregnancies in October, when more than the usual amount of students began visiting the school health clinic for pregnancy tests. By May of this year, Time reported, the school’s nurse practitioner had administered 150 pregnancy tests at the clinic, prompting the staff to advocate prescribing contraceptives to students without parental consent.

Equally disturbing is that some of the men involved in the pregnancies are in their mid-20s, one reportedly being a homeless 24-year-old from the area. Last month at a school committee meeting, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk inquired about filing statutory-rape charges against some of the men, according to the paper.

(In January, MTV News asked experts and a panel of young people, “Why Don’t We Always Use Condoms?”)

The Time report described the predominantly white, blue-collar town of 30,000 as having been hit hard by the downturn in the fishing industry, with school Superintendent Christopher Farmer saying that the economic hardship has devastated some local families. “Families are broken,” he told the magazine. “Many of our young people are growing up directionless.”

Two Gloucester teen moms who unexpectedly got pregnant while sophomores at the high school last year told the Herald that the girls who made the pregnancy pact have no idea what’s ahead of them. “If I could go back in time, I would want to wait and have the same baby later. You can’t do stuff that normal teens do,” said Meaghan Orlando, now 17 and the mother of 3-month-old Jayden. “They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.”

Orlando’s childhood friend and fellow new mom Alivia Fidler said the pact was “ridiculous.” Fidler — who, like Orlando, plans to return to school next year as a junior — warned the teens that their friendship won’t likely survive the multiple births. “They’re not going to be friends very long. You have to take care of your baby,” said Fidler, who has broken up with the baby’s father and lost her job at McDonald’s, according to the paper. “It’s frustrating. I don’t have a lot of support.”

At a time when the national teen pregnancy rate rose 3 percent in 2006 — the first increase in 15 years — Time suggested that the school may have done too good a job embracing its young mothers. Sex-ed classes at the school end freshman year, and teen parents are encouraged to take their children to the free on-site day-care center. “We’re proud to help the mothers stay in school,” said Sue Todd, CEO of the company that runs the in-school day care. The report described a scene where strollers sit seamlessly alongside cheerleaders and junior ROTC members in the hallways of Gloucester High.

Quite interesting, isn't it? As we always have known but not quite acknowledged, teen pregnancy is not only in the inner cities.