Scarborough Middle School’s “Baby Think it Over” program may be an optional class, but with about 60 students enrolled this semester, it seems that many parents and students like it.

The program allows eighth-grade students to live with a life-like computerized baby for 17 hours, during which time they will have to feed, change and properly care for the baby just as if it is a real child.

The purpose of the program is to let students know about the responsibility of parenthood and to give them some hands-on experience, said teacher Denise Lockman, who started the class about six years ago.

“To get your driver’s license you have to practice for hours,” said Lockman. “But we do nothing to prepare these kids for parenthood.”

The babies are a high-tech replacement for a program many parents remember being part of as a student when they were required to carry around a sack of flour or an egg.

While these exercises might have provided them with an understanding of what it is like to carefully carry around something wherever they went, it was hardly a realistic interpretation of the responsibilities of caring for a baby.

Caring for one of the computerized dolls with the “Baby Think it Over” program provides a more accurate depiction of what parenthood is like, parents feel.

The baby’s skin feels somewhat realistic, and each one weighs between 7.5 and 8.5 ounces. The baby cries when it is hungry and a chip on the doll’s mouth tells it when it is being fed. If not fed long enough, the baby will again begin to cry. It also will cry when it wants to be changed or just because it is crabby. At the conclusion of the 17 hours, the computer will provide a score as to how well the student did.

“I think it was an eye opener,” said Nancy Golojuch, who had a son participate in the program and was enrolling her daughter last week.

Generally, 60 to 70 students participate in the program, which Lockman wants to keep as an elective class because that way the students who are truly interested in the experience will participate.

The program also requires parental approval because the babies can be an inconvenience to the family as well as the student. The family will also have to listen to the dolls cry at inopportune times, such as the early morning or late at night.

The students pick-up the baby at the end of the school day and return it the following morning. In between, they will take a peak at parenthood and how babies can interfere with plans and a social life.

“It’s just enough to give them a little snippet,” Lockman said. “Everything they do that day will be interrupted by the baby. “They learn a lot in that 17 hour experience and just how demanding a baby can be.”

Parents said it will provide their children with the experience of raising a child, even if just for a few hours and to understand the challenges of having a baby.

“Basically, we don’t want her to make any mistakes early in life,” said Steve Buchanan. “It was hard for us, and we were prepared. Being unprepared would be devastating.”

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