Education Champions: YWCA works to lower teen pregnancy ratesWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press, United Way of Greater Toledo and 13abc’s “Bridges” with Doni Miller are profiling 12 education initiative programs in Northwest Ohio. This is the fifth story in the series.
A trio of YWCA-administered programs aims to help combat Lucas County’s historically high teen birth rates by engaging Toledo Public Schools (TPS) students both inside the classroom and out in the community.
Reducing the Risk — the sexual education curriculum used in all TPS middle and high schools — as well as two afterschool programs, the YWCA Carrera Program and the Teen Outreach Program, are making strides toward that goal, program coordinators say.
The efforts earned Lucas County an Outstanding Emerging Innovation award from the national organization Healthy Teen Network in 2009.
Although teen birth rates dropped in 2008, Lucas County still had the highest rate among urban counties in Ohio for the third consecutive year, according to the Ohio Department of Health. It has consistently led or been near the top among Ohio’s urban counties during the past two decades.
The birth rate of girls aged 15-17 dropped 13 percent in Lucas County from 2007 to 2008, while the birth rate of girls aged 18-19 dropped 8 percent. There were 805 babies born to teen mothers in Lucas County in 2008, about 70 percent to girls aged 18-19.
“Historically, we lead the state in high teen birth rates, but that is pushed by the 18- to 19-year-olds,” said Carol Haddix, teen pregnancy prevention coordinator with the Lucas County Family Council. “Take them out of the equation and we’re on par with everyone else. We’re trying to make inroads with that population, but it’s a tough population because they are out of school and we don’t necessarily have access.”
All three programs include the parents.
“We can do things with kids, but if we don’t reinforce it with parents and have them on board and working together, it can’t be successful,” said Deb Ortiz-Flores, executive director of Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services, the main funder for the programs.
Job and Family Services has invested $3,486,468 in teen pregnancy prevention programming since 2008, Ortiz-Flores said.
The YWCA was selected to administrate the programs through a competitive bid process, said Associate Executive Officer Shelly Ulrich.
“Prior to going with the three programs that we have, there were many different agencies that were delivering various different curriculums and programming and the messages weren’t always consistent, so this has really helped to kind of rein in the information that kids are receiving,” Ulrich said.
Reducing the Risk
It was the same with sex education at TPS before Reducing the Risk was implemented districtwide in fall 2007, said YWCA Youth Development Director Jama Hayes.
“Everyone was doing something a little bit different,” Hayes said. “Some were doing an awesome job, some were doing a mediocre job and some were doing nothing but showing movies.”
YWCA staff members come into 10th grade health classrooms to teach the 16-lesson series. The middle school version of the program, called Draw the Line/Respect the Line, is taught in eighth grade.
In accordance with TPS’s “abstinence-plus” policy, abstinence is stressed in every lesson, but birth control methods are also discussed, Haddix said.
“Basically, it’s a curriculum that empowers the youth to be able to make decisions for themselves rather than being coerced and pushed into situations,” Haddix said. “It empowers them to be their own person and be able to make the decisions for themselves and not be apologetic about the decision they’re making.”
Students role-play to practice handling situations that may arise, Haddix said. They also have assignments to talk to their parents about topics addressed in class.
“It opens up the line of communication,” Haddix said. “As a parent, you don’t know when is the right time to have this conversation. You might be more nervous than the kids are, so it’s a way to begin the conversation if you haven’t already.”
Both middle and high school students were found to have increased parent involvement, knowledge of pregnancy and STD transmission and confidence in their ability to utilize delay tactics as a result of the curriculum, according to a two-year program evaluation by Lucas County Family Council.
Teen Outreach Program
Teen Outreach Program (TOP), an afterschool club with an emphasis on service learning that also provides general information about reducing risk, has grown from five students at a few North Toledo schools in 1995 to 210 active members at all six TPS high schools today, Hayes said.
Students design their own projects, which have included graffiti removal, community gardening and working with children and seniors, Hayes said. The groups also do several joint projects each year.
A program evaluation found TOP students attended school more regularly and performed better than their TPS classmates and had a 100 percent graduation rate.
“The more that a student can connect to their community, it shows less teen pregnancy, less dropouts, more connectedness to family members and school,” Hayes said. “It builds stronger kids and stronger community ties.”
YWCA Carrera Program
The YWCA Carrera Program, housed in East Toledo’s former Franklin Elementary building, is the only program of its kind in Ohio and one of only seven outside of New York City, where the model originated.
A single group of 49 students, who started together as fifth-graders in January 2009, will remain in the program together through high school.
Now seventh-graders, the students are bused to the building every day after school, where they participate in lifelong sports, self-expressional art projects, tutoring, career investigation, financial literacy projects and sex education. They receive medical and dental care and attend cognitive group therapy once a week.
“The way to get a sexuality message to stick is if you work with young people on all the things that make them whole, not just sexuality issues,” said Michael Carrera, director of Adolescent Sexuality and Pregnancy Prevention Programs for The Children’s Aid Society, who developed the model. “What we have to do is create a climate where they believe good things will happen in their lives because when young people believe good things are likely for them, they reduce risk on their own.”
Topics in their Family Life and Sexuality Education class include abstinence, healthy versus unhealthy relationships and the dangers of “sexting.” Age-appropriate information about birth control and STDs will be incorporated as they get older, said Program Coordinator Penny Tullis.
“Dr. Carrera believes that hope is the greatest contraception and so we do a lot of things in terms of helping kids reach their full potential,” Tullis said. “One of the things he really stresses is to see the kids as at-promise, not at-risk.”
Studies have shown students in Carrera programs have less sex than the average U.S. teenager, dramatically fewer pregnancies and STDs when in their upper teens and no HIV cases to date, Carrera said.
One of the biggest improvements in Toledo has been a decline in physical fighting, Tullis said.
“That was a huge issue when they came to us,” Tullis said. “We definitely feel like we are making an impact. What they face in their community is huge, however, and so we’re always working to show them something different than what they often see in the rest of their lives.”
Although challenges tend to grow as the kids get older, Carrera said he is pleased with the progress so far.
“We’re seeing some really, really good outcomes already, even though it’s early,” Carrera said.
Expelled students are another student segment at risk for teen pregnancy. In response, the YWCA started the Youth Development Outreach Program in 2008. An agreement with TPS will usually allow students to return to school at the halfway point of their expulsion period if they have attended the academic sessions at the YWCA. The program has served about 40 kids with almost all returning to school, Hayes said.
Other Lucas County prevention programs include Mercy Health Partners’ Positive Choices and United North’s Plain Talk.
Haddix said she is encouraged by the community’s willingness to discuss teen pregnancy.
“In the past, if you said teen pregnancy, you were almost shunned,” Haddix said. “Now people will actually have a conversation, which is really refreshing.”
For more information, visit www.ywcatoledo.org.