The holidays are a fond memory. It's time to get back to the hectic schedule of a sexuality educator!
This week has been eventful. The next five months are quickly filling with program requests. I have been pleased to receive requests from a couple new school districts for the first time.
I did get some unfortunate news this week. A teacher with whom I have worked for nearly two decades notified me that her school district was forcing her to sever all relations with our agency.
I consider the teacher a dear friend. Her classes are made up of nontraditional, teenage students who are typically at higher risk for unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and relationship violence. She has invited me to speak to her classes each semester on some of these issues. We have been able to gear the information to be responsive to her students' experiences, learning styles, and the real world in which they find themselves.
Now, I guess they're on their own.
So often, restrictions are placed on the classroom and on our agency programs as a result of pressure from only one or two "concerned" parents. Sometimes the pressure comes not from a parent, but from an anti-sex individual who does not have any knowledge of what we actually discuss with teens in a classroom setting. This is especially frustrating when the majority, if not all, of the students' parents want them to participate in these sexuality education classes. Without this sort of outside interference, parents/students can always opt-out of our programs. The opt-out alternative offers a pretty clear choice to parents. When we are restricted from providing programs, those choices are essentially taken away from all parents and students regardless of their interests.
What does this have to do with teen advocacy? Today I read a report about a group of teens who recently testified before the New York City Council and said that sex education should be mandatory in high schools in the Bronx borough of the city. I know that some of you are thinking, "Sure, that's in New York. This is Oklahoma." But read on.
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the teen pregnancy rate is 137 pregnancies per 1,000 girls in the Bronx, while the rate citywide is 99 pregnancies per 1,000 girls. Although the NY Department of Education recently approved a new comprehensive sex ed curriculum (which encourages teens to delay sexual activity but also provides information about contraception and other sexual health issues), school principals can choose whether to adopt it or not.
In an effort to mandate such a program, the teen advocates of Public School/Middle School 218 in the South Bronx started a petition, created a MySpace page online, and designed brochures on sex education for teens. The teens and their adult mentors said that they were astonished that factual information about sexual health was absent in the school.
I can hardly wait to find out what happens as a result of these courageous teens and their advocacy efforts. I am both proud and jealous: proud that teens are speaking up and demanding attention, and jealous that it is happening in NYC and not here in Oklahoma.
Teen activists could make a real difference at the school district in which I am no longer welcome. I know the teens are out there, and I encourage them to voice their opinions in support of sexuality education in school settings.
Write a letter to your principal. Write an article for your school paper explaining why you think sex ed is important. Start a petition in support of mandatory comprehensive sex ed. Heck, get on the agenda for the next city council or school board meeting to let those in power know what REAL life is like for today's teens.