There are fads, my friends, and then there are fads.

As summer vacation begins, 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies—more than four times the number of pregnancies the 1,200-student school had last year. Some adults dismissed the statistic as a blip. Others blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers. But principal Joseph Sullivan knows at least part of the reason there’s been such a spike in teen pregnancies in this Massachusetts fishing town. School officials started looking into the matter as early as October after an unusual number of girls began filing into the school clinic to find out if they were pregnant. By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, “some girls seemed more upset when they weren’t pregnant than when they were,” Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. “We found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy,” the principal says, shaking his head…

The girls who made the pregnancy pact—some of whom, according to Sullivan, reacted to the news that they were expecting with high fives and plans for baby showers—declined to be interviewed. So did their parents. But Amanda Ireland, who graduated from Gloucester High on June 8, thinks she knows why these girls wanted to get pregnant. Ireland, 18, gave birth her freshman year and says some of her now pregnant schoolmates regularly approached her in the hall, remarking how lucky she was to have a baby. “They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally,” Ireland says. “I try to explain it’s hard to feel loved when an infant is screaming to be fed at 3 a.m.”

Any theories? It screams hoax, but the principal’s corroboration rules that out. The article hints that the phenomenon may have been triggered by an economic downturn in Gloucester, but if that were true this sort of thing would happen periodically everywhere. Likewise the boldfaced part about kids so desperate for love that they’d be willing, literally, to manufacture it. When I read it I thought of the Salem witch trials as another example of teen group psychology being capable of some mighty interesting ideas when the dynamics are just right, but as to what those dynamics are and why this idea, I haven’t a clue.