A Dozen Ways to Dream Bigger
by LeAnna Benn
Abstinence speakers - thank-you! Thank-you for opening the doors in many communities to the abstinence until marriage message. You are the beginning of the solution. Watch out because it is time to realize a larger opportunity to take the abstinence / fidelity message another step toward changing the culture.
Keep doing what you have been doing. Stay in there. Don’t settle for, “This is the best we can get in our community!” Exciting shifts are coming that allow expansion and enhancement of the message. No one program in one sector of the community can be the whole solution. Be encouraged - that means help is on its way! Making the culture friendlier towards the marriage commitment calls for everyone to work together. Frustration need not get the better of you.
A Success Story
1) Parents are the primary sex educators of their children. It is a requirement that schools schedule a meeting with parents prior to speakers coming to the classrooms. The Morris’s know that they have a quality program so if a school doesn’t want to have parents, Aim for Success doesn’t come.
During the evening meeting, parents hear what the students will be told and preview the games and activities. “Parents need education as much as the students do”, says Marilyn. Parents deserve to know what information their children will receive. Provide them with information and practical methods to talk about sex to their children. Sell books, tapes and brochures for them to use. Suggest “if you like what the school is doing by having abstinence speakers, say thank-you.” Call or write the school board and administrators and give them a positive message. It will be appreciated.
Aim for Success also supports parents by offering a three-month free subscription to their newsletter, which has more practical tips and stories about abstinence. At the end of three months, parents can subscribe for a fee. To further demonstrate their commitment to parents providing abstinence support, AFS has developed a audio tape series with written materials, “Choices That Lead to Lifelong Success“ to assist parents.
2) Teachers are role models for students. Teachers, not necessarily the teacher in whose classroom they spoke, will be answering student questions after the speakers leave. Abstinence teachers suffer peer pressure, too. So staff development for all personnel is highly encouraged during the early discussion of bringing in the AFS speakers. During a 90 minute staff development, teachers learn the truth about condoms and are presented with the brutality of sexually transmitted diseases using selected slides from the Medical Institute. But Marilyn doesn’t stop there; she enthusiastically challenges the educators to make sure that their curriculum matches the message that she is presenting.
A speaker’s bureau that doesn’t diligently work to change the curriculum is like putting beautiful frosting on a cake laced with arsenic. Parents believe that abstinence is the message that their children are receiving and the children think that adults know that they are being taught a mixed message. Both messages are O.K.
Marilyn recommends a list of abstinence curricula and assists them with resources. Many innovative abstinence education groups like Reality Check Resources part of the MCCAP project in Waco, TX have established resource libraries for schools and community groups to use.
3) Respect the need for medical, scientific accuracy in education. This means many hours of study and practice in giving a factual presentation. Thoroughly knowing the facts necessitates speakers having regular access to physicians who will answer their questions, bring new information and be a resource for difficult questions. Plan to have annual or semi-annual meetings for speakers with local physicians to learn up-to-date information and to gain comfort in presenting scientific details in a conversational manner. Understand fertility as a positive power in a person’s life, know how sexually transmitted diseases work and be able to factually turn questions about contraception for unmarried people into an opportunity to present abstinence.
Prepare an outline of the staff development program and a bibliography of the medical references used for teachers. AFS (and Teen-Aid) carries the medical documentation with them to the trainings. A physician, the medical library and footnoted resources from abstinence education programs provide a wealth of resources. Review presentation materials annually for current and local statistics.
4) Be professional. Programs should be fun, entertaining and educational. Allow students to interact with the presenter, so play some games.
• Abstinence is not “just saying NO”. It is saying “YES” to the rest of your life. Positive programming that appeals to emotion not just medical facts will draw many more students. Remember sex is not only a physical act. It has social and emotional aspects.
• Material should not be graphic or violate the modesty or sensitivity of students. Separating boys and girls for reproductive system information enhances the learning, reduces the embarrassment and raises the level of sensitivity in the questions asked. To encourage the will to wait students have to want to avoid the negative consequences, they must value their reproductive system not merely tolerate it.
• Remember the age level of the students and have appropriate lessons for their concerns and skill level. Leave students with a challenge to practice a skill or consider an idea presented.
5) Train the speakers. Their knowledge, consistency and efficacy with students should be evaluated with each presentation. Your organization’s reputation depends on it. Use a brief survey that can be tabulated. Have the students rate the program, excellent, good, fair or poor. Then hold your speakers accountable to keep the rating high, based on the student responses. Keep the questions the same, measure the student’s knowledge, attitudes and intentions about postponing sexual involvement until marriage before and after your program. Ask if the students are sexually active if it is age-appropriate and approved by the school and parents.
Another Success Story
6) In a public school, do not use religious materials or religious comments. Speakers watch your language. If Christians can’t obey the authority they are under in the public school setting, how can students be expected to respect their authority? Each religion has its own jargon, ask someone from a different faith to listen for those “religiousese” phrases. There are enough reasons to abstain that religion does not have to be used in a public school setting.
7) Sound abstinence curriculum is a must. Curricula give a deeper understanding and a follow-up to the speaker’s promotional message. In many areas of the country laws regulating curricula content and approval processes set guidelines on which curricula can be used. New and updated editions are available from several publishers. The mood is changing so don’t let old guidelines or reviews stop your pursuit of quality abstinence materials.
Curriculum Success Story
Review several programs. Compare each program with your school policy, state law and adoption plan for each grade level. Publishers help with implementation advise.
• Is it a clear abstinence until marriage message?
• Does it teach the necessary skills?
• Are specific parent materials included?
• Does the publisher provide teacher in-service training?
Staff development allows educators to initiate positive abstinence programs from within the school. Volunteering on a curriculum committee permits you input from the community. Service to families gives you credibility on the issue and networking opportunities within the community. Being well informed on the curricula options grants you a position of leadership and influence.
Readers are Leaders and Leaders are Readers.
8) Training professionals can expand. Now is an opportune time to increase your influence. The trend in sexuality education is for physical education teachers to present the information instead of only health teachers. This is a large group who will be seeking speakers and new information. Their coaching experience tells them to give clear messages and expect the best from every player on the team. Coaches can be ideal abstinence educators. Students confide in them and look to them for guidance.
The National Abstinence Clearinghouse can provide college credit and training for teachers in those schools who make major shifts in staff and curriculum. However, most curricula providers have staff training for their materials. Staff in-service training beyond the staff development is especially important in communities struggling with the paradigm shift to abstinence. Know what the curricula provider recommends when you suggest curricula at the staff development session.
9) Expect the best. The media can be a friend. Teens listen to many media outlets so the media cannot be ignored. The media is not necessarily hostile once they know the health and emotional facts. Give your media the facts, the tools and a positive attitude.
And Yet Another Success Story
10) Churches need help. Both the Old and New Testament have clear teaching on the goodness of sexuality and the appropriate conduct. Organizing rallies for the True Love Waits pledges continues. Speakers and trained leaders to follow-up on teens making commitments are a vital need and opportunity. It is imperative that the faith community is able to find true abstinence resources.
Unfortunately, some churches have not discussed sexuality for several years. Attendance changes so rapidly that abstinence programs are needed every year or two to accommodate the change in age and membership. In churches, follow the principle of speaking to the authority, (pastor, board, and rabbi) before going to parents and then address the teens. Even adults in churches have mixed ideas about what abstinence education is.
Contact churches who have signed the Community Marriage Agreement to do premarital counseling prior to performing marriage ceremonies as a starting point for support. The faith community is a powerful resource. It also is going to be wowed by those who do not want a strong abstinence until marriage message given in the schools.
11) Clubs and Community - “I must be the last virgin in the state.” Or “I won’t ever be able to find a virgin like me when I’m ready to get married.” There is no need to be intimidated. Support is already available. Establish an “A-Team” after school, in a neighborhood or at a church and it will grow. Activities that meet the federal definition of abstinence education are available plus how to start a club. Expect these young people to be excellent spokespeople for abstinence. Now you must decide what form the club will take?
Peer Mentors or Adult Leadership with peer support? Teens are exciting! Kids listen to kids. Isn’t that part of the problem? Aren’t we trying to combat peer pressure? Over the years, the “I’m here today to tell you that I did it wrong” speakers are passe. They didn’t have lasting effect because “if the consequences were so bad how come you’re here today looking so good?” Is it best transmitted by peers in similar situations or by adults with experience and 20/20 hindsight?
What are the liabilities if teens are the leaders or mentors vs. adults leading an educational program which gives teens support? Current wisdom now charges teens with the responsibility of convincing their friends that abstinence is the way. When it is the responsibility of adults to set the course and to point out the pitfalls. If any subject is generational in nature, sexuality is. This is not mere semantics but a principle that could undermine the credibility of a community program not to mention ruin the lives of any misguided teens. The model for training and support may be mimicked by the teens. Establish behavioral guidelines for teen leaders, presenters or members of cast in a skit. Teens who are not abstinent are not effective role models.
Another Continuing Success Story
12) Don’t leave out the medical/professional community. Last but not least‑ Much of sexuality education, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases began as a medical issue. Leaders in the medical community now realize that sexuality is larger than a medical issue and are looking for ways to help their clients and their community triumph over the epidemics brought on by the sexual revolution. Garner support from medical and professionals to assist with educating speakers. Know that a doctor’s testimony at a committee meeting is invaluable. Legal professionals are of great service in understanding the legal/social contradictions and guidelines within a given state. However, many of these professionals need education and support in applying abstinence within their field. Medical professionals benefit from sexually transmitted disease information and materials that are being developed to assist physicians in counseling their patients to abstain.
The Challenge to Change the Culture
Changing the culture is too big a job to do alone. There is no time to be overwhelmed or to stake out small territories. All the spheres of influence in your community must be on the team. Be encouraged and energized. Expand your horizon. The dream for a better, safer place for our children and grandchildren is ours for the making!
Resources Mentioned Within This Article:
 Private correspondence, RE: Title V grant expenditures, Ann Frazier, North Carolina Conservatives United, March 1, 1999.