What Does it Mean to Become an Advocate? (page 4)
Speaking up for something that you care about makes you an advocate. Advocates make a difference by expressing their concerns and desires to friends, family, neighbors, and, ultimately, the people that have the power to make a change.You can advocate for anything-whether it's after-school activities at the community center, new uniforms for the young people that play in the local Little League, or a more comprehensive sexuality education program at school. It only takes one person to make a difference!
Get Informed. Find out about the sexuality education program in your local school. Ask your children, teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board members about the programs that are being taught in your community.
Contact the maternal and child health program within your state's health department to determine local organizations that have received federal and state funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. (Check the "blue pages" or government pages of your local phone book for contact information.)
Conduct a local poll or organize a focus group discussion to find out how local residents feel about sexuality education.
Join networks that will keep you informed. SIECUS' Advocates Network is one way to keep on top of the critical federal and state developments related to sexuality education and sexual health issues.You can sign up online at www.siecus.org/policy/Advocates/advo0000.html or call SIECUS in Washington, DC at 202/265-2405.
Make a Difference in Your Community
It's never too soon to get involved! Advocate early for sexuality education so that your school will have a comprehensive program in place by the time your children are old enough to attend. To become an advocate for your local sexuality education program, get support, get involved, and get the message out.These strategies can help you support a comprehensive sexuality education program as well as challenge abstinence-only programs in your community.
What is Sexuality Education?
One of the most important things parents and caregivers can do is to help their children develop a healthy attitude toward sexuality. While parents and caregivers are the main ones to teach their children about sexuality issues, school-based programs can supplement what young people learn at home.
Contact local family planning, teen pregnancy prevention, HIV prevention, and advocacy organizations to find out what groups or coalitions are already working on this issue and how you can participate.
Create a community group that supports school sexuality education programs that are comprehensive. Have parents, caregivers, community members, and students sign a statement or petition of support.
Encourage your local Parent Teacher Association/ Organization (PTA/O) to participate in this issue. Ask them to endorse your efforts. Consider making a presentation on the importance of a comprehensive sexuality education program at their next meeting and bring young people to provide testimonials.
Involve faith-based organizations. Many denominations have affirmed the need for sexuality education both within their own faith and in public schools. Ask religious leaders who support comprehensive sexuality education programs to discuss the issue with their congregation.
Locate the health curricula review committee in your school district, county, city, or state.These committees, usually made up of parents, teachers, professionals, and students, are responsible for evaluating sexuality education curricula before they are adopted by schools. As such, they often have the most powerful influence on sexuality education in their communities. Ask how you can join the committee.
Locate the group or task force in charge of overseeing or monitoring abstinence-onlyuntil- marriage programs in your state or territory by calling the maternal and child health program in your state's health department. Ask how you can participate as a citizen member of the oversight body. (You may find that there is no such task force. If so, write the governor and ask him or her to create one.)
Get Your Message Out
Contact your governor, state health commissioner, state education commissioner, state representatives and senators, federal representatives and senators, city council members, mayor,municipal officials, school board members, and school superintendents. Let them know your opinion about sexuality education by signing a petition or writing a letter. (You can usually find contact information for these individuals in the "blue pages" or government pages of your local phone book.)
Get the local media involved in this issue. Find out which reporter writes about schoolrelated or health issues. Call and ask to speak about your concerns. Inform the reporter about the results of your local poll or petition to support sexuality education. Invite the reporter to a sexuality education class; a roundtable discussion about the topic with youth, educators, and parents; a student rally; or a community group meeting.
Write an article for your local paper's opinion/editorial section. Determine which local organizations have newsletters or other periodicals that might also publish the article.You can also write a letter to the editor in response to something that the newspaper published or something that was in the news or happened in the community. You can also respond to other people's letters to the editor.
Use the Internet to get your message across. Create a web site, message board, or list serv dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education in your area or contribute opinions to those that already exist.
Young People Are Not Getting What They Need. Today's youth are bombarded with messages from television,music, movies, and the Internet.Yet the high rates of teen pregnancy as well as STD and HIV infections suggest that they are clearly not getting the accurate, unbiased information about sexuality that they need.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the U.S. government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have the exclusive purpose of telling teens not to have sex until they are married. These programs do not provide young people with the basic information and skills to help them deal with challenges that they may face as they grow up.They are also not proven effective.
Young People Benefit from Comprehensive Sexuality Education Many parents and caregivers worry that teaching about sex is an invitation to their teens to have sex. However scientific evaluations of sexuality education, HIV prevention education, and adolescent pregnancy prevention programs have consistently found that these programs can help delay intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use among teens who are sexually active.3 These programs allow students to obtain the information and develop the skills they need to make healthy, responsible decisions about their sexuality throughout their lifetime.
What Does Comprehensive Sexuality Education Include?
Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten - 12th Grade is a publication that can help you evaluate the program or curriculum at your child's school. It identifies six key concept areas that are included in a comprehensive sexuality education program. It also provides age-appropriate information and messages for 36 sexuality-related topics. For a free copy of the Guidelines, go to www.siecus.org/pubs/guidelines/ guidelines.pdf. A free copy of the Spanish version, Gua Para Una Educacion Sexual Integral Para La Juventud Hispana/Latina: Kindergarten - 12 Grado, is available at www.siecus.org/pubs/Hispanic- Latino_Guidelines_spanish.pdf. If you don't have Internet access, call SIECUS at 212/819-9770, extension 0, for order information.
Each State Decides What Young People Will Learn at School
States vary in their approaches to sexuality education. Although they can enact a mandate for sexuality or STD/HIV education courses, most do not. Instead, they let local school districts decide for themselves. In fact, less than half of the states require that some form of sexuality education be taught in the schools.
Whether or not a course mandate is in place, states can dictate content for those sexuality or STD/HIV education courses that schools choose to teach. For example, content mandates for sexuality education courses in some states require an abstinenceonly- until-marriage message. Other states require teaching STD/HIV prevention methods.
To determine if your state has course or content mandates, check the SIECUS web site at www.siecus.org/school/sex_ed/ mandate/mand0000.html.
10 Characteristics of an Effective Sexuality Education Program
Research shows that effective sexuality education programs share a number of common characteristics. They:
- focus on reducing small numbers of sexual behaviors
- are based on theories that have been effective in reducing other risky behaviors
- give a clear message about abstaining from sexual activity as well as using contraception
- provide basic accurate information
- include activities that address peer and social pressures related to sex
- allow students to practice communication, negotiation, and refusal skills
- use a variety of teaching methods
- are tailored to the age, culture, and experience of students
- last a sufficient length of time
- are led by teachers who are genuinely interested in the topic and receive adequate training
Adapted from D. Kirby, Effective Curricula and Their Common Characteristics (Santa Cruz, CA: ETR Associates, www.etr.org/recapp/programs/effectiveprograms.htm). For more information call ETR Associates at 831/438-4060.
Parents Take Action: Stories from the Front Lines
Fighting Fear-Based Messages
A mother in Bradenton, FL, found out that her daughter attended a presentation at school that featured Pam Stenzel, a national abstinence-only-until-marriage and anti-abortion speaker.The parent believed Ms. Stenzel's presentation provided inaccurate information and was upset that the messages contradicted her own views.
After learning that Ms. Stenzel's program indeed presents fearbased messages, uses inaccurate statistics about STDs, exaggerates condom failure rates, and is biased about abortion, the mom brought the story to the press and local organizations. She also tracked down a Florida policy that requires that all health education, including that provided by guest speakers, provide medically accurate information. Once they were informed of this state policy, the Bradenton School Board assured the parent that they would not invite Ms. Stenzel to speak at their school again.
Starting a Sex Ed Program in San Francisco
Parents of students in an elementary school (kindergarten through fifth grade) in San Francisco found themselves unprepared to answer questions from their seven-year-olds about sexuality.The parents turned to their children's teacher for guidance only to learn that she, too, felt unable to answer the questions. At this point, they realized the need for a sexuality education program in their school.
After two years of working with the head of the school, the parents formed the Sexuality & Health Education Curriculum Advisory Committee. It was carefully planned to include at least one parent from each grade that would have a sexuality education class.
The committee made a number of recommendations about the program. First, it suggested that the program begin in the second grade. It also suggested in-house teachers rather than outside professionals because it felt parents, teachers, and students would be more comfortable.
The committee also set out to find age-appropriate books and curricula for the program and contacted SIECUS and other organizations for suggestions. It decided on Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive curriculum. It also selected It's So Amazing, an illustrated children's book by Robie Harris.To help parents understand the importance of sexuality education, the committee scheduled a training.
Even though the training was well attended, not everyone supported the program. After one parent opposed the curriculum, a teacher decided not to finish teaching the class because she was uncomfortable with the material.
Using the lessons learned throughout this process, the parents improved the program in 2003. For example, teachers will play a much more integral role in designing the curriculum.To avoid objections from parents after the program has started, the committee will meet with parents in advance to review the curriculum in detail. Eventually, it hopes to provide age-appropriate sexuality education beginning in kindergarten.
Make Your Voice Heard
Support sexuality education by letting your state and federal officials know what you think. For a list of campaigns, go to www.familiesaretalking.org/ action.html or contact Amy Levine, SIECUS Family Project Coordinator, at 212/819-9770, extension 303.
Reprinted with the permission of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. © 2005 SIECUS.
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