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Advocating Abstinence Among Teens : Education: A new program designed for junior high students aims to stem the birthrate among young girls.

December 13, 1992|ANDREA HEIMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A new program designed to reach junior high students that advocates sexual abstinence may soon be taught in many schools throughout Orange County.

While only two schools have participated in the program, more are scheduled to join next year. The program, Education Now and Babies Later, has been approved in the Laguna Beach Unified School District. The Santa Ana Unified School District, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the county, will vote on it next month.

The state has authorized $5 million to fund ENABL, hoping to stem what many are calling an alarming increase in teen pregnancy. The grant is the largest California has given for the prevention of pregnancy and sexual involvement among teens.

Officials say they hope to reach 200,000 12- to 14-year-olds statewide with ENABL, which is funded through 1994 by the state Office of Family Planning.

The Orange County-based Coalition for Children, Adolescents and Parents has taught the "postponing sexual involvement" curriculum at Kraemer Junior High in Placentia and the Orangewood Adventist Academy, a private school in Orange.

CCAP, which is funded by the Office of Family Planning, coordinates the ENABL program in schools throughout the county, while Planned Parenthood of Orange County targets teens outside of the schools.

"The message is abstinence--how can you argue with that?" said Lynette Ward, coordinator of the Family Assistance Network at Kraemer Junior High. "It talks about the pressures kids are under, and says: 'Here's why, here's what to do.' "

The ENABL program, which involves five one-hour class sessions, was taught in Spanish and English at Kraemer, and was well received by parents, teachers and students, Ward said.

The curriculum, which involves parents and high school students as educators, covers media influences, peer pressure, self-esteem and the risks of teen pregnancy. It also teaches assertiveness techniques and "refusal skills." It was effective, Ward said, because it involves active discussions and role-playing. She said the school plans to teach the program every semester.

"We've found that kids want to learn how to say no without hurting feelings," said Lynn Posey, CCAP program director.

"When we approach high school students, they say: 'It's too late, you should have talked to us three or four years ago,' " said Jeanne Tealer, a CCAP educator.

While 80% of junior high students are not sexually active, 50% of high school students are sexually active, Posey said.

In 1990, 75 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 delivered babies in Orange County, about double from 10 years ago.

And the annual birthrate among teens in the county has climbed steadily from 2,929 to 4,743 in the last decade. Experts estimate that an equal number of teen-age girls obtain abortions.

"The goal of ENABL is to dispel for these kids the myth that everybody's having sex, because not everybody is," Posey said. She said the curriculum, which can be taught in Spanish, Vietnamese and Cambodian, stresses abstinence.

"It's based on the belief that young people should not be sexually involved and should wait to have sex," Posey said. "But we need to give them the skills they need to do that. The whole idea is that by giving information, we empower them to make healthy choices, to make decisions on an informational basis."

In contrast to the more explicit high school programs, which have drawn some negative reactions, Posey said, CCAP has received relatively little opposition from the community about its curriculum. The ENABL program, she said, is designed specially for 12- to 14-year-olds.

Still, she said, schools are hesitant to approve the program, which is free.

"We're ready to go, but with budget cuts and changes politically, administrators are afraid to add anything new, especially anything that deals with sex," Posey said.

Program coordinators who are trying to introduce ENABL in schools also face another stumbling block: a proposed evaluation of young people's sexual views and behaviors.

Results of the surveys would help them better devise a curriculum, Posey said. But administrators remain hesitant, afraid of a backlash from parents because of the frankness of the questions, she said.

The evaluations, like the curriculum itself, she said, would be offered only to students whose parents have given their consent.

But CCAP educators say they are still optimistic about the program's potential to help students in junior high. Since April, they have trained about 30 local high school students and 30 adult volunteers.

"It's a holistic approach," Tealer said. "Parents preview the curriculum before it is taught so they can discuss it with their kids. Parents are the primary educators, but when kids go through puberty, a communication gap develops. ENABL tries to bridge that gap."

High school students teaching those in junior high also makes the program effective, Tealer said.

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