Originally created 02/27/06

Keepin' it real



As a representation for sex, Teka Allen wraps a foot-long piece of clear tape around the arms of two Evans High School ninth graders.

Imagining those two students went on to have future sex partners, Ms. Allen then wraps the same pieces of tape around the arms of other students.

Ms. Allen then asks the students in her health class what would happen if those two students met up again and decided to marry.

"They can't keep it together," she said in her class Thursday as she tried to mash the two pieces of tape together and watched them fall apart. "There's too much baggage on there. They have no bonding power."

A youth coordinator for Columbia County Family Connections, a Harlem-based nonprofit agency which provides several student services, including abstinence-based sex education, Ms. Allen said her lectures are making teens think twice before having sex.

"We have pre-tests and post-tests," Ms. Allen explained. "On the pre-tests, most of the students are excited at the idea of having sex. After getting the information, I'd say about 85 percent say they'd rather wait."

The information Ms. Allen refers to includes facts about various sexually transmitted diseases, the consequences of teen pregnancy and the emotional problems teenage sex can invite.

"Kids today are bombarded in the entertainment media with messages to have sex and visual images of sex," said Julie Miller, the executive director of Family Connections. "If you look at what is on television, you would think that everyone is having sex and that it is no big deal.

"As adults, we should be providing at least some counterbalance to that message. We have an obligation to our youth to be honest with them about the risks of premarital sexual activity. That's why we promote abstinence."

The school board recently recognized Family Connections as a business partner with the schools where the nonprofit organization conducts programs.

The partnership recognizes the group's work with its abstinence classes, which began at the tail end of the 2004-05 school year, said school system Special Events Coordinator Karen Ribble.

"When a teacher brings in an outside source on a sensitive issue like sex education, it gives the subject more focus," Ms. Ribble said.

"It's reinforcement to the students to hear from someone else besides the teacher."

The partnership status might result in more money for Family Connections. This year, the agency received about $190,000 in grants from federal, state and private sources, Mrs. Miller said.

"What this will do is open doors for them to apply for additional grants," said Ms. Ribble, who has experience with grant writing.

As with other school business partners, the designation also raises community awareness about the organization, Ms. Ribble said.

The schools that Family Connections is now a partner with include Columbia County Alternative School, Harlem Middle, Harlem High, Evans Middle, Evans High and Lakeside High.

In addition to the sex education classes Family Connections youth coordinators conduct at high schools, the agency also offers anti-drug classes, violence prevention, anger management classes, tutoring and mentoring and sponsors such civic youth groups as Harlem High School's Young Women of Excellence.

Clubs such as Young Women of Excellence offer students alternatives to sexually active lifestyles, Mrs. Miller said.

"We know that the kids have to be doing something else," she said. "They've got to set goals for themselves.

"They've got to be able to see beyond high school."

Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 113, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

90: The percentage of teen parents who live in poverty

3,000: American teen girls who become pregnant each day

2: Americans younger than 20 who become infected with HIV each hour

75: The percentage of sexually active teens who have never been tested for HIV and AIDS

Source: Columbia County Family Connections



COLUMBIA COUNTY FAMILY CONNECTIONS PROJECTS

- Teach research-based abstinence education to ninth-graders in Columbia County schools.

- Teach life skills (substance abuse and violence prevention programs) to middle school pupils at the Columbia County Alternative School and serve as mentors.

- Teach anger management and decision-making to middle school pupils and youth in the juvenile justice system.

- Provide after-school tutoring and mentoring to pupils at Harlem Middle School to help improve scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

- Work with Young Women of Excellence at Harlem High School to encourage sisterhood, academic excellence, community service and setting goals beyond high school.

- Serve as mentors to teens with multiple disciplinary problems.

- Identify young people in the community who have dropped out of school and work with them to get their GEDs and find gainful employment.

- Assist Evans Middle School counselor.