Finally there is some good health news for teens in Lincoln County where teenage pregnancy dramatically outpaces the national average. This school year students will receive sex education like never before in the hope that the teen pregnancy rate of 55 per 1,000 can be reversed and that a blow might be struck against poverty, an underlying cause of early pregnancy.
Instead of shaming young girls for using birth control, brand new in-school courses will provide comprehensive sex education including the safe use of condoms and other methods of birth control such as the pill and abstinence.
The formidable organization responsible for the new approach in sex education is West Virginia Free, a Charleston-based reproductive health and education organization. On June 18, Lincoln County school officials signed a memorandum of understanding with WV FREE to implement the fresh methodology as an accepted and standardized segment of the school system's curriculum. Within the new structure, individual health teachers will be responsible for the classes, freeing regular instructors from the often onerous and sometimes controversial lessons that some refused to be a part of.
According to WV FREE's Kate Flack, at least four health teachers have been designated so far including Lincoln County High School baseball coach Adrian Young. Commenting on what she called the "high caliber of the health teachers," Flack said, "they have made a commitment to teaching medically accurate, age-appropriate reproductive health education. The idea is for the health teachers to empower young people with knowledge and skills to keep them healthy and safe."
Over the summer the health teachers, themselves, devised their lesson plans that are in full compliance with the state Department of Education's guidelines on sex education contained in its blueprint called Next Generation Health and Wellness Content, Standards and Objectives.
Mandatory, except for those who choose to opt out, the new lessons include the functions of the reproductive system, physiological and emotional changes of puberty, how the media influence student sexual activity, how to avoid risky behavior or situations and how to identify and prevent communicable maladies like sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
The unique method of teaching about sex is expected to be made even more robust by the participation of Mission WV, another powerful health and education organization whose T.H.I.N.K. program (Teach Health Instead of Nagging Kids) works to educate kids about pregnancy and the prevention of STDs and HIV.
Perhaps most important, the new educational program will allow health teachers to focus on problems youngsters face every day, according to Adrian Young. "Imagine being a teenage girl [who] is being pressured by her friends and [potential sex] partners to engage in sexual activity," said Young. "Now imagine your parents were telling you to do so also," he said. "We have put together a plan to address these pressures that aren't being directly dealt with in our current sex education model."
To be sure, the new plan offers, for the first time, one way for Lincoln County to head off mounting poverty. It will show teens and their parents that there is a way out of impoverishment rather than engaging in risky sexual behavior and giving birth when the teenagers are not mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and socially ready.
Rabel, a Lincoln County resident, is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist and contributing columnist for the Lincoln County Journal.