Let’s talk about sex

Bethany Jones

Area high schools’ curriculums vary in how to teach students about staying safe, the danger of sexually transmitted diseases

Parents, schools, and the community must come together to address sexual awareness, said Roger Sidoti, principal of Kent Roosevelt High School.

Sidoti said teen pregnancy is a cyclical issue that will continue to be a problem.

“Look at Timken, if you would go back five years ago they would have had less pregnancies,” Sidoti said. “Now they are on the national news.”

Timken High School in Canton has recently made national headlines for the pregnancies of 65 of their 490 female students, about 13 percent.

Sidoti said the media capitalizing on the bashing of Timken disgusted him.

“I resent that. I’m tired of that,” he said. “Those girls got pregnant because a community has inadequately addressed the responsibility of becoming sexually active. This isn’t a school problem. The community must come to grips with that.”

Sidoti said he does not have all the answers on how to better educate teens about sex.

Between one and five girls get pregnant each year at Kent Roosevelt High School. Those numbers have remained steady for the past decade, said Joseph Giancola, assistant superintendent of the Kent city school district.

Sidoti said the state health curriculum is too hung up on teaching sex education.

“I see it as a psychological and emotional health issue,” said Sidoti. “I don’t think we should be talking about sex education. We need to be talking about relationships. More importantly, intra-relationships with yourself – your own sexual makeup, so kids don’t feel that something is wrong with them.”

Sidoti said he used to feel that parents and schools had two distinct roles in the development of students. That distinction is now blurred. Schools, family, the community and social services all play a part in educating students.

“How do we get an uptight society to realize we’re losing kids left and right because we can’t talk about sexuality?” he said. “People need to speak out.”

Tanya Titus is the Graduation, Reality and Dual-Role Skills coordinator at Kent, Hudson, and Stow-Munroe Falls high schools. The GRADS program offered to pregnant and parenting teens is also offered at Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge and Woodridge high schools.

The GRADS program helps teens deal with relationships, family and pregnancy issues, said Titus.

“The earlier they get pregnant, the less of a chance they graduate,” said Titus. “A freshman usually drops out. It’s just so hard to have a baby when you’re 15.”

Sidoti said people tend to be one-sided when it involves what type of sex education should be taught to teens. Some feel abstinence is the only choice while others believe condoms should be handed to teens.

“There must be that middle ground,” he said. “I’m not advocating any sexual actions, but we need to have these conversations.”

The Kent city schools start teaching kids about sex education in the fifth grade, said Karen Schofield, director of elementary and middle school education for Portage County. A family life program that discusses topics such as how babies are conceived is taught, said Schofield.

Seventh grade students at Stanton Middle School are taught the reproductive system, said Angie Jones, health teacher for sixth, seventh and eight grade students at Stanton.

Eighth grade students review the program from the previous year, including sexually transmitted diseases, Jones said.

Contraceptives are not introduced to middle school students, Jones said, but they are introduced at the high school level.

Roosevelt teaches a two-day sexual education program sponsored by Planned Parenthood. Sexually transmitted diseases are taught on the first day, and contraceptive methods on the second, said Lisette Anderson, community educator for Planned Parenthood of Summit, Portage and Medina counties.

Anderson said that she finds students to be responsive to the program.

“Kids will wait after if they have a question about an STD,” she said. “There are a lot of questions on what method to use for birth control.”

Anderson said contraceptives are not passed out in the school.

Abstinence the Better Choice is a program that encourages students to remain celibate until marriage, said Cheryl Biddle, executive director of ABC. The organization offers two programs, Concern About Teen Sexuality and the Responsible Social Values Program.

High school volunteers who travel to local schools and perform skits for students put on the CATS program. CATS’ volunteers visit Roosevelt, where they teach information primarily to sophomores.

“We know kids can make good decisions when they’re given clear information,” Biddle said.

The ABC program approaches pre-marital sex in a non-judgmental way. It encourages those who have engaged in it to stop, Biddle said.

Linda Ferlito, department chair of health and physical education for Roosevelt, said abstinence is the best policy for high school students, but realizes some engage in sexual activities.

“I don’t want unwed pregnancies. Psychologically, I don’t think teens are ready for that,” she said. “My job is to prepare you for the future and for your lifetime.”

Contact public affairs reporter Bethany Jones at [email protected].