With May being National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, health educators from the Family Health Services Division at the Will County Health Department are getting ready for special “Making a Difference” and “Making Proud Choices” days during the lunch periods at the Valley View School District’s Hubert Humphrey Middle School and Bolingbrook High School.
During the 2016-17 school year, Health Department Educators having been teaching the CDC evidence-based pregnancy prevention curricula at Bolingbrook High School, Phoenix Experience Alternative School, and Hubert Humphrey Middle School. Will County Health Department Program Manager Cindy Jackson applied for an Office of Adolescent Health Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grant to implement this program in the Valley View School District after the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) approached the health department. Bolingbrook was identified by IDHS for this grant due to the higher rate of teen births and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) among adolescents in Bolingbrook. The Will County Health Department became one of seven Illinois grantees for the program.
Harkins, who teaches the 8th grade program at Humphrey Middle School, says the students seem to open up because “they are pleasantly surprised that an adult can be open and honest with them on these topics.”
The plan is for more students to think about their futures and making the right choices during a special day at Humphrey Middle School on Friday May 19th, and then at Bolingbrook High School on Monday May 22nd. On both days, Will County Health Department Educators will have a table set up with a banner display and will be wearing promotional T-shirts during each lunchroom period. The T-shirts will say #Warriers#Goals#Dreams for the Humphrey students, and #Raiders#Goals#Dreams for the BHS Students.
“For students today and all the social media, everything seems to be ‘hashtag this’ and ‘hashtag that,’” said Health Department Education Shree Woods. “That’s why we decided to put it on both the banners and the shirts, to give this more of a fun, familiar feeling that they could relate to.”
But Kathleen Harkins, who teaches the pregnancy prevention program at Humphrey, says there is certainly a serious approach to this as well. “On the first day of class, we have the students fill out a card about their goals, their dreams, where they would like to be in five or ten years. The idea is to have them really think about getting to those goals, and realizing that an unplanned pregnancy or STD (sexually transmitted disease) could derail those goals. It’s all about making better, more informed choices.”
On the days of the Health Department Educators’ appearance at Humphrey and BHS, students will be invited to fill out a card with their dreams and goals, just like the students who have taken the class. The banners will then be placed in the schools’ hallways, with all the “dreams and goals cards” filled out around the banner. When students fill out their dreams and goals cards, they will be given prizes, including the chance to win gift cards and t-shirts.
The Valley View District will be expanding this program next year to two other middle schools: Brooks and Jane Addams. In addition, the program’s curriculum will be expanded to Romeoville High School, where it will be taught by district teachers.
Woods says that after one year of the program, older students at Bolingbrook High School are hearing about it and taking notice. “Students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades are saying, “wow, why didn’t they talk to us about this?”
Finally, the battle against teen pregnancy is a matter of getting the entire community involved. A teen advisory group known as BASH (Bolingbrook Adolescent Sexual Health) has been established, and consists of teens from Bolingbrook High School. The group meets monthly to advocate for certain issues concerning the culture of their school, and how they respond to teen pregnancy and STD issues.
Harkins also mentioned that adults are able to get involved as well through the Bolingbrook Alliance for Teen Pregnancy Prevention (BATPP). The purpose of the BATPP is to function as a leadership team to assist in raising awareness, educating, and building support in the community around the issue of teen pregnancy prevention. The BATPP is currently making plans to bring the Robert Crown Center for Health Education’s program, “Parenting in a Digital Age: Sex” to Bolingbrook High School and the three Bolingbrook middle schools in the fall of 2017.
And in addition to programs in schools helping with the prevention of teen pregnancy, it cannot be emphasized how important of a role is played by the attitude of parents. As Harkins explained, the kids need to be encouraged, not discouraged, from being able to approach their parents and talk about serious issues such as pregnancy and STDs.
“If parents are calm, open, and honest; kids will be more likely to talk with them. But if there is an edgy, uneasy atmosphere all the time, they will be less likely to come to their parents. And if they don’t, they’ll be getting information from other sources.”