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Sex education committee highlights its findings for school directors

The Sunnyside School Board was treated to a presentation from the district's sex-education review committee at Thursday night's monthly meeting.

The sex-education committee presented the board with a first reading of a plan it formulated to enhance sex education in the district.

The committee was formed last fall after concerns were brought to the board about sex education in the district.

"We looked at a lot of issues," said committee member Mike Shuttleworth.

The committee met twice a month since Oct. 14 to iron out plans to address sex education in the district.

Shuttleworth said the group met with representatives from different state organizations to talk about what needs to be addressed. Shuttleworth said the committee also found out the importance of parent involvement in teaching sex education.

In a written report to the board, the committee presented some of the background of the research it has done over the past few months. In December 2004, the committee met with Valerie Fleusch, who specializes in sex and HIV-AIDS education. Based on this presentation, the committee developed the "Ten Common Characteristics of Effective Sexuality Curriculum." Some of the highlights from this list include having the district focus on reducing a small number of sexuality behaviors that lead to unintended pregnancy or HIV/STD infection. Other highlights include addressing social pressures, employing a variety of teaching methods designed to involve participants and have them personalize the information, and incorporate goals, teaching methods and materials appropriate to the age, sexual experience and culture of the students.

The committee also went over a variety of curriculum dealing with issues such as AIDS and making the right sexual choices.

Harrison Middle School Principal Janie Hernandez, one of the committee members, shared with the board some of the plans the committee would like to see the district implement regarding sex education.

In grades kindergarten through fourth, the committee wants to see the district teach students in areas dealing with appropriate touching and character building. The committee would also like to see a plan for teaching fourth grade girls about puberty.

The fifth grade is where the district would start separating male and female students. The committee would like to see the district implement a curriculum for abstinence education while touching on other areas such as puberty and character building. The fifth grade is also when students would receive the state mandated HIV education materials.

The committee recommended the district implement a district wide workshop for parents of students in the fourth and fifth grades, dealing with such issues as what the district is teaching in regards to puberty and HIV/AIDS.

There would also be a newsletter sent home to parents telling of the district's efforts.

The seventh grade is when the sex education curriculum starts to get a bit more complex. Some of the curriculum at this grade level deals with issues like menstrual cycles, hormones and erections. Other curriculum would deal with the consequences of sexual activity and defining sexual expression. Hernandez said the goal of the committee was to address some of the issues the media has hyped up dealing with sexuality.

"The media has a lot of influence on kids today," said Hernandez.

Starting in the eighth grade, the committee wants to see a resource list of birth control/abstinence support available in the school nurse's office. The same list would also be made available at the planned parent night. Hernandez said the list wouldn't be distributed to students grade wide, rather it would be made known that the nurse would be able to help with those situations.

One of the problems at the high school level, said committee member Stacy Alseth, is not every student may be reached with the message because of conflicting class schedules. Alseth said the committee is looking at trying to have the curriculum it would like to implement included in English or the current world problems classes in the 11th and 12th grades.

Committee member Sandra Linde said it is very important to get the parents' support on sex education.

"We have so many students who want their parents to talk to them," said Linde.

Tim Bardell, who helped spearhead the formation of the committee, echoed what Linde said.

"We have to get discussions (going) in the home," said Bardell.

Bardell said he further saw nothing wrong with the district doing a survey asking sexual-related questions, similar to one high school student Andrea Phillips did for her senior project.

School board member Lorenzo Garza, though, was curious as to what the district was doing now with its mandated HIV/AIDS presentation to students. High School Principal Dennis Birr said the district has been meeting the mandates on HIV/AIDS education until this past year. Birr said a lot of the district's efforts has been on teaching about sexual harassment.

The committee really didn't have an answer for a question from board member Bill Smith, regarding what the chances were of the students accessing the resource list before they get into some kind of sexually-related trouble. The committee generally answered that the list would be made available to students and parents as much as possible in hopes of educating children.

Audience member LaDon Linde told the board that he wants to make sure the district is sending a consistent message to students about such things as drugs and alcohol and sexual activity. He cited a couple of incidents where the district has presented programs that are contrary to the message that is delivered to kids.

"I think we need to think these things through a bit," said Mr. Linde. "Let's make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing."

Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said he would have the district administration look over the recommendations of the sex-education committee. The administrative staff will then make a presentation to the committee and the board on its recommendations.

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