MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Obviously, communicating, talking, it isn't always easy. And if you're a parent, there's one kind of communication that can be particularly tricky. That would be The Talk, as in the birds and the bees. But parents aren't the only ones struggling when it comes to teaching kids about sex. In D.C. public schools, officials are working with teachers and staff to train them on how to answer kids' questions.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And WAMU education reporter, Kavitha Cardoza, joins us now with a look at this new sex-ed campaign. Hi, Kavitha.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
So when it comes to sex and learning about sex, if you're a teenager, you can turn to your friends for information, you can watch movies or TV and, of course, there's always the internet. But, and this probably goes without saying, would it be accurate to say, there's plenty of misinformation out there?
You're right, there's definitely a lot of misinformation out there. For example, I spoke recently with Tyrell Garrett, a 15-year-old from Brown Education Campus in Northeast D.C. And here's an example of the sorts of things teens are told by their friends.
MR. TYRELL GARRETT
I've been hearing that kids been saying they use two condoms or something like that so they won't have a baby. Another one is, like, they say that when they having, like, sex or something, they -- girls, like, stand on their head and they won't have -- they won't have no baby if they stand on their head. I don't know if that true. That don't even sound like something that will work.
What Tyrell and other students say is that they don't really feel comfortable or can't speak to their parents about sex so they turn to teachers. And that's why DCPS is launching this effort with educators. It came about after the school system did a survey at 10 middle schools where staffers were asked questions such as, do you have books in the library relating to sexual health?
Do you have HIV onsite screening? And, do talks about health include view points from students who have chosen to abstain from having sex? And this survey found teachers and staff needed more resources and professional development so they could in turn support students.
So now then, what kind of training are these teachers and staff getting so they'll be more comfortable dealing with all this?
The teachers practice role playing or students might have a project, say, to take photographs and relate them to sexual health. So, for example, the student we heard from earlier, Tyrell, took a photo of a condom he found outside school and in the class talked about safe sex and teen pregnancy. Or the adults learn about how to create opportunities for conversation.
So maybe talking to a student and saying, what are your talks about, say, an episode "Glee" or "16 and Pregnant"? And then they can discuss body image and healthy relationships. In this training, the adults also talk about things as basic as naming body parts.
I'm wondering now how school nurses fit into all of this? Traditionally, many people have seen them as a resource for questions about sex.
Well, the D.C. council did a report in 2009 called The Youth Sexual Health Project and it found many high school students don't trust the school nurses. They thought they were, and I'm quoting here, "Inaccessible, untrustworthy and judgmental." And even if there were nurses the students wanted to turn to, there aren't enough of them. Nurses who were interviewed for this report said there were only about 200 of them in the whole school system.
That's approximately one per 300 students. So D.C. school officials say that puts a lot of pressure on just a few people. (word?) says students are more likely to go to an adult they trust and schools want to make sure they have all those bases covered.
All right. We've talked about teachers, we've talked about staff, we've talked about school nurses. What about parents? Where do parents fit into this whole discussion?
I spoke with Diana Bruce who heads Health and Wellness Programs for DCPS. She says the school district is reaching out to parents to try and provide them support as well.
MS. DIANE BRUCE
In reality, young people need many, many talks throughout their growing up process about sex, about sexuality, about their bodies, about how they treat their bodies and their respect for the bodies and respect for other people. And all of them, those are, you know, several conversations. Similarly, what we found is that, you know, sort of, you know, people, you know, have sex-ed be the silver bullet and put all the pressure on the health teacher to sort of deliver this content and then, boom, kids are making good decisions.
MS. DIANE BRUCE
And that also doesn't happen, that sex-ed is one component of everything that needs to happen to support a young person's development in this area so that they can make the very best decisions for their lives.
Okay, so meanwhile, what about the content all the other teachers are delivering? You've got math, you've got reading, you've got science, a bunch of other subjects. Why does DCPS see sex-ed as important?
Well, Diana Bruce says they're related. She says it's incredibly important for making sure kids learn and do well inside the classroom.
This impacts behavior, this impacts attendance, this impacts academic performance and this impacts health. When you look across the board, our young people are at risk at greater proportions than most of the rest of the country on obesity, on Chlamydia and gonorrhea, on HIV, on pregnancy, on oral health. You know, you name it, D.C. students tend to be at higher risk of poor health outcomes.
And district residents, in general, tend to be at higher risk for poorer health outcomes than the rest of the U.S. population.
And this new program we've been talking about, is it in all of the D.C. public schools?
DCPS is evaluating the program and it's in the process of recruiting another 10 middle schools. And so we'll see an expansion of this in the fall.
Well, we will definitely keep an eye on this one. It'll be interesting to see what parents have to say as DCPS continues to roll this out. In the meantime, thanks, Kavitha, and please keep us updated.
Definitely. Thanks, Rebecca.
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