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Student pregnancies present a predicament in sexual education
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Programs offered
Gainesville elementary schools’ courses to be implemented or continued in January with parent permission:
Kindergarten through fifth grade at all schools
Good-Touch/Bad-Touch: A prevention education includes information and discussions about child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and bullying, Internet safety, stranger danger rules, bystander responsibilities and answers to questions about substance abuse.

Fifth grade at all schools except Fair Street
Always Changing: A puberty education program that teaches separated boys and girls about menstruation, common puberty changes they can expect and hygiene.

Fifth grade at Fair Street; Gainesville middle and high schools
Family Life and Sexual Health: A comprehensive reproductive health program that addresses physical development, promotion of sexual health, prevention of disease, affection, interpersonal relationships, body image and gender roles. Embraces an abstinence-based approach, information related to the prevention of pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Based on a positive and healthy sexuality across the life span. (Middle and high schoolers use the sixth- through 12th-grade F.L.A.S.H. curriculum)

More resources for parents
Information about how you can talk with your child about sex and your personal values

For more information about volunteering on Gainesville schools’ Sex and AIDS Committee, call 770-536-5275.
Jessica Jordan

Kids eventually learn about the birds and the bees, whether it is from TV, peers, parents or teachers.

To help kids access the facts, Gainesville school leaders are implementing a standard approach to introducing elementary students to reproductive health in the district’s five elementary schools in January.

The Sex and AIDS Committee has approved various programs from which schools can choose, Gainesville schools social worker Jarod Anderson said. The programs are being started in part to combat the county’s teen birth rate that is double the national average.

Hall County’s birth rate for teenage girls is 85 births per 1,000 girls age 15-19, according to the United Way of Hall County.

Nationally, the rate is 42.5 births per 1,000 girls age 15 to 19, according to a 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The national rate in 2007 increased 5 percent over 2005 following a 13-year period of declining rates, the report said.

Anderson said when about 30 Gainesville High School girls became pregnant in one school year three years ago, district leaders knew action needed to be taken. He said the spike started Teen Pregnancy Prevention Inc., a local nonprofit agency dedicated to promoting community awareness and providing comprehensive and age-appropriate prevention programming, counseling and support services.

The consequences of teen pregnancy affect teen parents’ education and prosperity. The United Way of Hall County reports that only one-third of teen mothers earn a high school diploma. The agency also reports that 78 percent of children born to teen mothers who have never married and who have not graduated from high school live in poverty.

Anderson, who works mostly with high school students, said educating elementary schoolers may be the key to turning around the county’s teenage birth rate.

“The high school is pretty much where everything comes to bloom,” he said. “You deal with substance abuse issues, you deal with teen pregnancy issues and gang issues in middle school. By the time you get to high school ... it’s almost like reactionary. You really have to start with students at a younger age.”

How to introduce elementary schoolers on the sensitive issue of sex, however, has proven divisive. Some parents have supported the Family Life and Sexual Health curriculum that delves into the science of pregnancy presented in an abstinence-based context. Other parents said they would prefer their children to learn the basics of puberty in fifth grade but save the more detailed information on reproductive health for sixth grade.

With parental permission, all elementary students will learn through the Good-Touch/Bad-Touch program how to react if someone touches them inappropriately. Fifth-graders, except for Fair Street IB World School students, will learn through the Always Changing program what to expect from their changing bodies. The Always Changing program has been in place for years at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy and at Centennial Arts Academy.

Enota counselor Sue Williamson said the Proctor & Gamble Always Changing program is geared more toward girls and does not provide much information on reproduction.

“There’s always a couple of students that ask something that crosses that line,” she said. “We direct them to talk to their parents. Parents feel pretty strongly about being the primary sexuality educators.”

At Fair Street IB World School, the controversial F.L.A.S.H. curriculum has been in place for separate girl and boy fifth-grade classes at least two months, principal Will Campbell said. Some parents at other schools voiced concerns on the widely-used curriculum that provides information on genitalia and reproduction. The district’s middle and high schools use the secondary education F.L.A.S.H. curriculum, Anderson said.

Tracy Waggoner has a daughter in fourth grade at Centennial, and said she strongly objected to the F.L.A.S.H. program once she learned of it by way of a letter from the school. She said she feels some of the content on reproduction and self-stimulation may cause more harm than good if students are introduced to the material too soon.
Sue Briss, executive director of Georgia Parents for Responsible Health Education, said self-stimulation is not included in the elementary F.L.A.S.H. curriculum.

Waggoner said it is the timing of the information that most concerns her and other parents.

“They definitely need to know if you do this, then this will happen. That time is in middle school,” Waggoner said. “I think middle school is a good time. That’s when they’re starting to experiment.”

Campbell said Fair Street parents embraced the new F.L.A.S.H. curriculum and responded positively to letters sent home in Spanish and English informing them of the program.

“Our parents did not express concern about the program, they expressed support,” he said. “The way they expressed support is by filling out the permission slips and sending them back to school.”

Campbell said he believes providing kids with the facts about their bodies in fifth grade is not too soon.

“I think it’s very appropriate,” he said. “Because if you do a survey of middle schools across the country, we have little girls getting pregnant by little boys.”

Eric Wold teaches the two 45-minute F.L.A.S.H. sessions to Fair Street fifth-grade boys. He has a daughter in fifth grade and said as a parent, the issue of someone else teaching her about sexual health made him nervous.

“I think what makes parents nervous about it is that they don’t know what we’ll be discussing and how far we’re taking it,” he said. “... If they start to ask more questions, my answer is almost always the same, ‘If you want to know more about sex, then talk to your mom and dad, but right here right now, we’re learning about puberty.’”

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said ideally the sex talk would take place in the home. But when Gainesville schools stopped educating fourth- and fifth-graders on the topic a few years ago, the consequences were nearly immediate and came in the form of too many pregnant young students.

“It’s not a socioeconomic thing,” she said. “This is something that all children encounter eventually.”

Dyer and Williamson invite parents to provide their input on how the district should address reproductive health by participating on its Sex and AIDS Committee that reviews all related material before it is implemented in schools.

“I think this group of parents could really sit down and move a program like this and really get it going,” Williamson said. “I’m excited about the community and parental input because I think that’s really where it is at. We need to study this. We need to look at this.”

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