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Comprehensive Sex Education

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Models for Success
One promising initiative that's been enthusiastically received by parents and educators is the Teen Outreach Program, a private-public partnership originally developed by the Junior League in the St. Louis schools. Based on a ten-week curriculum for middle-schoolers, the program takes place both in and out of school. Weekly classroom sessions cover everything from setting goals and managing personal problems to discussing what marriage and commitment mean. The after-school component introduces students to the idea of community service. To date, the program has been implemented in 120 cities across the country.

Information about sexuality and health is only one dimension of Teen Outreach. Its larger purpose is to raise self-esteem and give adolescents a sense of issues in the larger world. To expand their awareness of what's happening "out there," student teams volunteer two or three times a month in community locations such as child-care centers and homeless shelters. "It's pure common sense," says one father. "You don't have to be a social scientist to know that when kids are doing something useful and personally satisfying, they're less likely to mess around with sex." Indeed, research shows that most teen pregnancies are conceived between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., when kids are unsupervised.

Another exciting initiative, says Claire Brindis, is the Program Archive on Sexuality, Health & Adolescence (PASHA) -- a collection of successful sex-education curricula developed over the years in different communities. Conceived by Sociometrics Corporation, it's marketed to schools and youth organizations. Each program in the PASHA collection has been selected for its demonstrated effectiveness in changing teen behaviors related to fertility and overall health. The programs are packaged for distribution and include games and videos as well as curricula and training manuals.

Beyond the Birds and Bees
Many parents who favor a comprehensive approach to sex education want their children to move beyond the basic reproductive facts. They want kids to understand and discuss the effects of drugs and alcohol -- how they can lower a person's ability to deal with urges and what the consequences are likely to be. Some worry about the sexual exploitation of teenage girls by older men. According to one study, 75 percent of teenage pregnancies and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) would still occur if all teenage boys refrained from having sex; 51 percent of pregnancies in junior-high school would still occur if all teenage boys refrained from having sex.

Such statistics, these parents maintain, point to the need for accessible information about tough questions: How do I resist pressure to become sexually active? What can I do to protect myself from pregnancy and disease? Where can I go for support or counseling? In this broader context, the specific topic of sex becomes just one element in an ongoing emphasis on character and personal responsibility.

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