By Jada Brazell
6 May 2002
Physicians in Temple are used to giving students in their city lectures about what many consider to be an uncomfortable subject -- sex.
Dr. Patricia J. Sulak, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, will encourage local doctors to discuss sex education with students in their area at 7 p.m. May 16 at the Texas Tech Health Science Center.
She will address the physicians and local school administrators about a curriculum developed by her and her colleagues, and she will discuss with administrators the possibility of implementing that curriculum in ECISD. "We wanted to bring her in to talk to physicians, to talk to our school administrators and to talk to our parents about what we are finding -- the increased number in (sexually transmitted diseases) and what our concerns are," said Karen Wilcox, ECISD health services director.
Sulak will also stress the importance of teaching abstinence, Wilcox said.
She said the curriculum involves physician participation with the students. "It brings in our physicians as a major part of it," Wilcox said. "It's just more material."
Wilcox said about a year ago, Sulak led physicians at Scott & White to coordinate their efforts with the Temple school district.
"They approached the school district about the number of school children who were coming in with sexually transmitted diseases -- their concerns of what they were seeing in the patients," Wilcox said.
The physicians worked with the school district to implement a curriculum in which abstinence was the primary method used to prevent illness, pregnancy and other sexual consequences.
"That's where this began," she said.
The Region 18 Service Education Center, after reviewing what Wilcox referred to as a "well-balanced curriculum," decided local students could benefit from the sexual education program implemented in Temple.
"It offers the most up-to-date information on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV," she said. "It also discusses the physical consequences of early sexual activity." She said the curriculum addresses the emotional pitfalls of early sexual activity as well.
Wilcox said Ector County has the fifth-highest pregnancy rate in Texas for areas of its size, although she said she didn't know the current number of teen pregnancies.
"We know that Ector County continues to have high percentages in teen pregnancies, and any time you see that, sexually transmitted diseases correlate with that teen pregnancy number," she said, adding that proper education may help prevent the problem.
"But it takes a consistent education," she said. "You can't just hit the kids one time and hope that it made a difference."
During a third presentation, Wilcox said Sulak will talk to local physicians about what their role would be if the new curriculum is implemented.
"Part of that effort is going to be to encourage our local physicians to volunteer and take a part in the education of our students," Wilcox said.
Odessa OBGYN Dr. Charles Lively said he has studied Sulak's curriculum, and he entirely supports it, so much so that if ECISD approves the curriculum, he would volunteer to lecture students.
"Its info everybody needs to know," he said. "It would yield nothing but positive results for the community."
Lively said the program places value on relationships and self-esteem by encouraging students to take care of themselves and abstain from sex.
"It's about mutual respect for somebody else," he said. "The medical profession strongly supports an abstinence-based approach. You're more likely to succeed in a long-term relationship and have more commitment than if that person is showing no restraint and no commitment."
A student who absorbed the information taught by Sulak's curriculum would be more likely to re-evaluate his or her views on sex, Lively said.
"I think if students had this data, they would go to their boyfriend or girlfriend and redefine their relationship, and they would also look at more of a long-term future for themselves instead of a spontaneous impulsive decision," he said.
The lectures would also clear up some misconceptions that condoms are safe, he said, adding that many patients he sees who use condoms contract all types of sexually transmitted diseases.
"They were thinking they were protected because they got some bad advice," he said. "We've had years of trying other approaches, and they don't work. It's time to try an abstinence-based approach."
Odessa OB-GYN Dr. Norman Harris said if the curriculum is presented in a factual, non-judgmental manner, he would consider speaking to classrooms about sex.
"All I can do is see what it is, and what it speaks to, and what issues it deals with," he said. "Then I will make a decision."
Harris said he has given sex education lectures at Odessa College, and that ECISD students could definitely benefit from a curriculum involving doctors.
"It's something that certainly has all sorts of possibilities," he said. "I wish there were more venues to get information like this out."
Although some teen-agers are well informed about sex-related issues, many are still ignorant, he said, adding that teen-age girls are the fastest growing segment of the population with HIV.
"I think an informed teen is a powerful weapon," he said. "I'm prepared to give talks if the format allows one to talk without being judgmental."
He said he's seen Sulak speak at seminars and that she is an "engaging speaker -- very straightforward."
He commended her efforts to dispel information to teen-agers about the subject.
"I think that's very nice," he said. "Any kind of education that will help teens and adolescents with regard to questions of that nature is certainly helpful."
By Raechal Leone
11 June 2003
. . .
In other business, the trustees also voted unanimously to approve a modified sex-education curriculum for ECISD students.
The Dreamcatcher program, being developed by Southwest Management Consultants, is a modified version of the curriculum already in place.
Under the new curriculum, the district will "tweak and bring up to date" its current program, including adding optional information on contraception for sixth-graders and expanding the curriculum to students in grades 9-12, Trustee Paula Ahders said.
In the same vote, the trustees also approved an application for grant money for the sex-education program to be submitted to the Texas Department of Health. The three-year grant is expected to fund most of the program.
The district would have to fund the lessons that deal with contraception itself. The grant money could only be used to fund programs that are restricted to teaching abstinence.
The cost of ECISD's portion would be "minimal," Ahders said.
By Raechal Leone
15 June 2003
Sixth-graders with parental permission could be learning about contraception at schools in the Ector County Independent School District next year.
An optional lesson on contraception would be available for students in grades six and up under a "reworked" sex-education curriculum that district officials hope to implement, said Laura Mathew, director of health services.
Students attend the district's sex-education program with parental permission in grades 5-8 and through their health class in grades 9-12. Students are required to take only one semester of health in high school.
Trustees unanimously approved a revised program at their meeting Tuesday. They also gave Mathew the go-ahead to apply for a grant from the Texas Department of Health to fund the program.
The vote came after Mathew told the board Ector County has the second-highest teen pregnancy rate of the 254 counties in Texas.
The changes to the current program hinge upon whether the district receives the three-year grant, Mathew said.
ECISD will be competing with districts throughout the state for a chunk -- probably about $350,000 annually -- of $4.3 million in available funds, Mathew said. Officials are still working out a budget for the program, she said.
The district has to do something different to educate its students about sex, Trustee Tommy Salmon said after the meeting.
"Sixth- and seventh-graders in this day and time mature pretty quickly," Salmon said.
The district received about $100,000 in grant funding from TDH this school year for its abstinence-based sex-education program.
"Because we have had that and it was a smaller version, we're hoping they'll give us the expanded version as well," Mathew said.
If the district does not receive the TDH grant, Mathew said the district could fall back on its current program, making modifications according to how much funding is available.
"It just wouldn't be as comprehensive," she said.
District officials won't know whether they have received the grant until about September.
If it does not receive the grant, the district will have to prioritize and fund some sort of program itself, Trustee Carol Gregg said.
Teen pregnancy is a problem, not just for the school district, but also the city, Gregg said.
ECISD will have to fund approximately 10 percent of the program itself -- the part that deals with contraception -- regardless of whether it receives the grant, Mathew said. The grant only funds programs that teach abstinence.
This school year, students only receive information on contraception in the eighth grade.
Trustees said they wanted to change that when Mathew spoke to them about doing a pilot program to teach contraception at the high school level in November.
The result is the revised sex-education program that the district has developed with Southwest Management Consultants called Dreamcatcher.
The Dreamcatcher program includes character education and more information on contraception. The district would use the grant money for more current videos, written materials and public service announcements.
"We are trying to package things a little differently and have the same theme that runs through all the classes, which is 'you can do what you want to do, as long as you have a life plan,' " Mathew said.
Having a child could delay that life plan, she said.
Teen pregnancy "very much contributes to the dropout rate," Mathew said. "I can just tell you from talking to these young (pregnant) girls that it's very difficult to stay in school when you're pregnant. Any way you look at it there's going to be some interruption in the learning process."
In the Dreamcatcher program, parents would decide whether their children participate at all, or whether they learn about contraception.
Parent Lesa Huber said she doesn't want her sixth-grader to learn how to prevent pregnancy.
Huber's son completed the sixth grade at Gonzales Elementary in May. Her daughter will begin fifth grade in August.
"I think it's just too specific and too advanced for that age group," Huber said. "It would be more appropriate to hear about it in junior high, because he will be attending school with older kids."
Huber does like the fact that ECISD's sex-education program emphasizes abstinence, a philosophy she teaches at home.
"I was kind of skeptical to let him attend the (sex-education) classes to begin with," Huber said, adding that she changed her mind after attending a parent information meeting.
The optional lessons on contraception are necessary for some students, Mathew said.
"I think that parents are the best judges of what their child needs," Mathew said. "But I would ask that they make those decisions after informing themselves" of Ector County's statistics on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Parent meetings and school assemblies to reinforce the messages in the sex-education curriculum would also be part of Dreamcatcher, Mathew said.
The Dreamcatcher curriculum includes character education, because the decision to have sex is "a character-education issue," Mathew said.
"We still need to teach more about abstinence than contraception," she said.
Administrators and teachers from AIM High, the district's school for teen parents, have said that self-esteem is the key to convincing students to abstain from sex, said Paula Ahders, a trustee who has worked closely with the program.
Mathew said many pregnant teens only heard from their parents that they shouldn't have sex, but they never were taught how to avoid getting pregnant if they decided to have sex despite their parents' warnings.
"We have students on (the AIM High) campus who live with someone, so I need to teach them more than abstinence," Mathew said. "They themselves don't want to get pregnant again, so it's very healthy for the board to say ëlet's teach contraception.' "
In order to continue receiving the grant, the district would have to show the program made progress, Mathew said.
In a presentation to the board Tuesday, Mathew and representatives of the consulting firm said they hope to reduce teen pregnancies, STDS and dropouts as a result of pregnancy by 10 percent in the first year of the program. They also hope to increase scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills by 5 percent.
"We're not going to cure it; it's not going to go away," but the program could help at least some students avoid an unplanned pregnancy, Ahders said.
Baytown Sun Editorial (reprinted in the Odessa
8 March 2004
Crumbs are flyin' in the Baptist heartland, where a cookie boycott was launched to protest the Girl Scouts sponsorship of a sex education program for preteens.
The boycott came at the urging of a Christian radio station in Waco that criticized the Girl Scouts for what the radio ad campaign called a "cozy relationship" with the Planned Parenthood association.
That tenuous affiliation consisted of helping to promote an annual conference in Waco each summer that helps prepare fifth- through ninth-graders for adolescence.
After customers canceled cookie orders and parents withdrew their daughters from Scout troops, the Bluebonnet Council of Girl Scouts, which oversees troops in the Waco area, announced it would no longer help sponsor the half-day seminars.
Undoubtedly, the protesters are following a moral imperative in shielding children from what might hurt them:
In this attempt to protect their children, however, these parents could be exposing them to the far greater harm that results from ignorance. Although we may not approve, agree or like it, the reality is that teenagers and preteens are sexually active. More so today than ever before.
Abstinence is the obvious choice to avoid becoming one of those statistics. But in the real world, sex education courses provide factual, accessible information about birth control, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
It's true that children mature at different rates and that not all fifth-graders are emotionally prepared to deal with certain aspects of human sexuality. But it's unfair and shortsighted to condemn a valid educational program and withhold its potential benefits and protections from children who are ready to learn about such matters.
The smartest way to teach our children about sex is to speak truthfully and candidly about the medical, physical and emotional realities of sexual activity. Considering what's at stake, you'd think parents would welcome some informed assistance.
Punishing the Girl Scouts for offering that kind of help is about as enlightened as believing that sex happens only after marriage.
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