The YEAH! Network uses research, advocacy, and community education and collaboration to influence policy and practice in adolescent sexual health. By articulating a common agenda among diverse local, state, and national stakeholders, we are working to create an informed, empowered, and engaged response to teen pregnancy and sexual health disparities in Hampden County.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Youth First Grant Press

The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, the YEAH Network, and our partners met for the first Tier 2 Federal Grant meeting on Tuesday October 12th. This was the first of many meetings after being awarded the $5.5 million Youth First grant. The Federal Grant will be used in the cities of Holyoke and Springfield to reduce the teen pregnancy rates. This is a a capacity building grant and will help agencies that are already in place.

To view news coverage, visit these links:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Youth First Grant Press Conference

Tuesday, October 12th at 12pm there will be a press conference announcing the Youth First Grant. This will take place at the YWCA in Springfield. A meeting with the partners, including the YEAH Network,  will follow at 12:30.

Friday, June 11, 2010

ATTN: Holyoke Parents of 8th graders

A FREE Event for Holyoke Public School Parents 
of current 8th  graders soon to be 9th graders!

 Dinner catered by Salsarengue Restaurant
Childcare provided for younger siblings

Dean Technical High School on Tuesday, June 15, 2010
5:00pm – 7:00pm


Holyoke High School on Wednesday, June 16, 2010
5:00pm – 7:00pm

Please RSVP to Mary Fago at 534-2033
This will be an interactive meeting facilitated by Consuela Greene, Prevention Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy in Boston, and by Mary Fago, Director of the Teen Clinics, with support from Jaime Cotto, Middle-to-High School Transition Coordinator/HPS and Interim Director of ENLACE/HCC, and Patty Alford, School Nurse Supervisor.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Girls, Inc. of Holyoke is currently hiring

Do you have what it takes to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold?  Summer staff positions to facilitate innovative, girl-centered programming.  Responsible for teaching a range of curricula that may include science and math, theater, adventure programming, art, media literacy, study skills, and health and wellness.  Prior experience in the field of youth development, early childhood education, or other related experience working with youth required.  In your cover letter, please identify if you are interested in and/or have experience working with girls 5-12 or 12-18 years old.   Bachelor’s degree in relevant field, bilingual preferred.  Valid driver’s license required.  40 hrs/wk, competitive pay.  If you are self directed with a proven track record of successful youth programming, send cover letter, resume, and names of three references by 5/21 to Girls Incorporated of Holyoke, P.O. Box 6812, Holyoke, MA 01041 ATTN: Sarah Dunton, Director of Youth Development Programs.    EOE.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Resource Guide

This summer, the YEAH! Network is putting together a resource guide that we hope can be used by community agencies, those who work with youth, and youth themselves.

While there are many organizations doing wonderful work in Hampden County, there is often a lack of knowledge outside of these organizations about the work they do.  Our goals for the guide are to: 
·      Connect organizations that serve youth
·      Provide concise, easy to access information on services available to the community

The guide will eventually be provided both on our website and in a printed form.  Please visit the following site to complete the community Engagement form that will help us put together the resource guide: Click here to take survey

Friday, May 7, 2010

YEAH! Network 4th Annual Conference

Thanks to everyone who came out for the conference.  We had a great day with over 70 community members participating in lectures, workshops and networking.  We would like to thank all those who came out, but especially our workshop leaders: Sarah Perez McAdoo, Cindy Miller, Teresa Vazquez, Penny Sotiropolous, Erica Fletcher, Maureen Holland, Leslie Kayan, Elizabeth Wood, Waleska Santiago,  Maria Figueroa, and Sandy Serrano.  
Thanks also to the key note speakers: Dr. Katharine White and Dr. Laura Koenigs who helped put the discussion in context.  

We were also joined by both Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno and Holyoke Mayor Elaine Plueta.  Both spoke eloquently about their belief in the power of communities to change - and about how both Springfield and Holyoke are making strides towards lowering the rates of unintended teen pregnancy.

Thank you also to all the Board members and YEAH! Network members who helped to make the day run smoothly.

National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy - Holyoke Press Conference

Mayor Elaine Pluta speaks about the importance of a community wide response to the issue of teen pregnancy.   The event (which was covered by channel 3 news ) was attended by members of recently convened Holyoke task force, members of the Holyoke Board of Health, teens from both Girls Inc and the YEAH! Network AAB, as well as community members and parents.

Jacquline Yos, mother of 2 Holyoke teens, speaks about why she supports comprehensive science based sex education in the schools, with translation by Teresa Vazquez.

Kevin Garcia, a long time member of the AAB, speaks about his mind on teen pregnancy and the importance of sex education in the high school.  He is surrounded by members of Girls Inc. and the AAB.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Advocacy Alert! Holyoke press conference on Teen Pregnancy Prevention Day

Please take a look at the Press Release from the Mayor's Office in Holyoke.  We will be joining the mayor tomorrow, together with other members of the Holyoke community.  We would love to see you there!

FROM: The Office of Mayor Elaine A Pluta
DATE:   May 3, 2010
RE:  Teen Pregnancy Task Force
CONTACT PERSON:  Nilka M Ortiz / 322-5511

Mayor Elaine A Pluta and Holyoke Board of Health Teen Pregnancy Task Force will be holding a press conference on Wednesday, May 5 at 11:15 a.m. in front of City Hall located at 536 Dwight Street.  The Mayor is inviting the community of Holyoke to participate in this event to support the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign.

We will be addressing our goal of supporting the role schools play in the implementation of the science-based health curriculum, grant monies for the program and presentation of the Adolescent Advisory Board.  We will also stress the framing of these issues, of its effect on the health, economic, and community welfare of our city.

This task force has been formed to address the Teen Birth Rate in the City of Holyoke which has positioned our city on first place for 4 years in a row.  Because we know how important education is, we have to play a part in changing the dynamics of the City for a better future.

For further information, please contact 413-322-5511.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SASHA Community Luncheon

 On Tuesday, 27 May 2010, the Springfield Adolescent Sexual Health Advisory (SASHA) hosted a luncheon in partnership with the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services at the Basketball Hall of Fame (read Masslive's coverage here.)  Approximately 100 community partners were in attendance, as was Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno, Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Health, representatives from the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy and the YEAH! Network.

SASHA was first convened by Mayor Sarno in response to the high number of births and sexually transmitted infections (STI) among Springfield youth.  SASHA is made up of community advocates, representatives of the school district, parents, teen leaders, and representatives from the medical community.  SASHA's mission is to build community capacity and engage parents, teens and policymakers in preventing unintended teen pregnancy and STIs.  To achieve this goal, the community must be engaged in a coordinated effort, necessitating collaboration with community partners: parents, teens and community based organizations. 

In order to implement a strategy to increase educational attainment and expand economic opportunities for our youth, four action groups have been established:  Community, Business/Philanthropic, Education, and Medical/Public Health.   These action groups seek to build upon the strengths that already exist within the community and create a plan to operationalize objectives that foster integration and collaboration. 

If you are interested in helping Springfield and SASHA move forward with these goals, please read the descriptions of the action groups below, find the one that best suits you, your strengths and interests, and contact the YEAH! Network at:   (Please note, this email is checked twice a week.)   As SASHA continues to meet and synthesize information gathered at the luncheon, please look for updates on the YEAH Network blog

Action Groups
Community Engagement - Juan Genera
  • Community Education and outreach to increase awareness and strengthen parental and teen involvement 
  • Improve Parent-Child communication relating to sexual health
Business/Philanthropic - Hector Toledo
  • As critical members of the Greater Springfield Community, our business and philanthropic partners can ensure that our message is shared and provide critical funding that will be needed to continue out very important work
Education - Dr. Ann Southworth
  • Ensure the vision of curriculum implementation, evaluation of the implementation process, forming community linkages for student referrals
Medical/Public Health - Helen Caulton-Harris,  Dr. Sara Perez McAdoo
  • Improve access and reduce obstacles to quality reproductive health services for youth

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Links between Cumulative Hardships and Health in Low Income Young Children

In an article published in the April 2010 journal Pediatrics, Cumulative Hardship and Wellness of Low-Income, Young Children: Multisite Surveillance Study, researchers found that, "...deprivations in early life can become biologically embedded, forcing children onto negative trajectories that jeopardize their health, their school readiness, and their ability to earn a living as adults. We also know that the remedies for many of these hardships are within reach if our society chooses to prescribe them."

The article focuses on how material hardships in the form of "...lack of access to enough healthful food for an active healthy life...unstable or overcrowded housing...[and] inability of families to afford consistent home heating or cooling" (Science Daily) will negatively impact the physiology of a child.  So, the more exposure a child has to these material hardships, the more likely that child is to experience remedial growth, poor health and poor development.

These findings further support the belief that the earlier a positive intervention takes place in a child's life, the more likely that child will be to live a healthy, successful life.

Journal Reference: Deborah A. Frank, Patrick H. Casey, Maureen M. Black, Ruth Rose-Jacobs, Mariana Chilton, Diana Cutts, Elizabeth March, Timothy Heeren, Sharon Coleman, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, and John T. Cook. Cumulative Hardship and Wellness of Low-Income, Young Children: Multisite Surveillance Study. Pediatrics, 2010 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-1078

Science News Reference: Boston University Medical Center (2010, April 13). Pediatricians find link between cumulative hardships and health in low-income young children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/04/100412075441.htm#

With thanks to Betty Medina Lichtenstein, who brought this article to the attention of the YEAH! Network.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Advocacy Alert: Holyoke Teens Gain Access to Sex Education!

On the same day the Republican Newspaper published an article about the rising teen birth rates in Holyoke, the school committee voted 7-3 in support of a comprehensive sex education curriculum in the Holyoke Public Schools. The Curriculum Subcommittee intensely debated the topic for over one hour before voting unanimously to approve the recommended science based comprehensive sex education curriculums (Quidate and FLASH). These curriculums were selected through a grant received last year from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Immediately following this vote, the full school committee convened. There was a speak out prior to the vote for the public to voice their opinions regarding implementation of the curriculum. One school committee member noted that there was an unprecedented number of the public attending the meeting, something that has not been seen before at any school committee meeting. 

The YEAH Network would like to thank all community members and leaders who have supported the advocacy efforts - including collecting over 400 letters of support - that has led to this unprecedented vote for comprehensive sex education in Holyoke Public Schools. This was truly a community effort that has involved community based organizations, policy makers, health professionals, the public health leaders, education advocates and most importantly parents and teens who believe youth should have the education they need to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. 

Although this has been a vital first step in the battle to reduce adverse reproductive health outcomes of youth, the YEAH Network will continue to work on behalf of teens in Holyoke to ensure responsible implementation of the curriculum and to include an evaluation component to this new policy. Following the vote on the curriculums, the school committee voted to hold a forum before the end of this school year to explain the new curriculums to parents. While the forum has not yet been scheduled, this will be another time that we will ask for your support . It will be vital for those who believe in the importance of comprehensive sex education in the schools to come, speak out and help shape how implementation of the curriculum will occur. We will be sure to be in touch regarding that event. 

Thank you again for all that you do! 

2008 Massachusetts Birth Data: YEAH! Network Response

The Massachusetts 2008 Birth Data, released last week, highlighted the continued disparity in the teen birth rates in many western Massachusetts communities. The information in the report underscores the continued need for comprehensive and sustained efforts to improve reproductive health outcomes for youth. The YEAH! (Youth Empowerment Adolescent Health) Network, a community coalition in Hampden County, uses advocacy, research, and community education to influence policy and practice in adolescent sexual health. Our response to the 2008 teen birth data will be ongoing: we view this year’s annual report from the Department of Public Health as an opportunity to go beneath the surface of the numbers and to explore several of the unanswered questions raised by the data.

The rates of both Springfield and Holyoke remain in stark contrast to the Massachusetts teen birth rate of 20.1 per 1,000. In 2008, for the fourth year in a row, Holyoke experienced the highest teen birth rate in the state: 115.3 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. This represents a 21% increase from the city’s 2007 rate of 95.4 per 1,000. The YEAH! Network is developing research questions that will link these statistics to information about poverty and other demographic information, which will inform ongoing policy reform and other community intervention strategies.  While we are encouraged by the 27% drop in Springfield’s teen birth rate for 2008 (61.4 per 1,000, compared with 84.3 in 2007), it is preemptive to suggest that this change can be attributed solely to existing programs in the city. The city of Springfield is in the early stages of making positive changes to address the teen birth rate disparity in the city: a city-wide task force addressing adolescent sexual health has been looking closely at these issues for a little over one year. In August 2009, the Springfield school committee approved a comprehensive sex education curriculum that began implementation this past winter. While these encouraging steps should certainly be applauded, there is still substantial work to do.

The Department of Public Health’s report is useful for providing a snapshot of where we have been, but it is not the whole picture. The take-away message is this: We are on the right track, and it is vital that we do not become complacent at this crucial tipping point. In Springfield, the school-based policies have only been implemented a few months ago. In Holyoke, the task forces are still forming. A coordinated and continuous effort, with full community participation, is the only way to achieve the conditions that foster adolescent sexual health: access to information and education; access to reproductive health services; and access to opportunity for the future. The YEAH! Network research team is excited to investigate the intersecting dynamics behind the data in the birth report, and to work with community-based organizations, local governments and schools, and community residents to create an informed, empowered, and engaged response to this health disparity.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Advocacy Alert! Holyoke Residents call your School Committee Representative!

At the last meeting of the curriculum sub-committee, which addressed the need for a comprehensive science based sex education curriculum in Holyoke High School, school committee members expressed concern that comprehensive sex education was not something that voters wanted.  This is your chance to tell them different!

The next curriculum sub-committee meeting is this coming Monday, 5 April 2010 at Dean Technical High School (1045 Main Street, Holyoke, MA 01040).  The sub-committee meeting begins at 6pm.  We need your support to get the school committee to approve adoption of a comprehensive science based sexual health curriculum.

What you can do: 
  • Today:  Call your school committee member! 
    1. School committee members are elected by ward.  First determine which ward you live in.  Go to the Elections Division Website for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 
    2. On this website, you will enter your street number, street name, city and zip code. 
    3. Click on "Find my election information"
    4. On the next screen, in the gray box under the red words "Where do I vote," your ward number will be listed. 
    5. Now that you know your ward number, you can find your school committee member's name and phone number by visiting the Holyoke Public Schools Website  
    6. School committee members that are undecided on the issue of comprehensive science based sex education include: Yvonne Garcia (ward 2), * and William Collamore (ward 6).  They NEED to hear your voice!  If you live in Ward 2, 5, or 6 we especially encourage you to call your school committee representative to express your views!
    7. Please, ALL HOLYOKE RESIDENTS, call your school committee representative and tell them that they should vote to support comprehensive science based sex education in the Holyoke schools.
      • Sample script:  Hello, I am a Holyoke Resident of Ward X.  I am calling to express my support for a comprehensive science based sex education curriculum in the Holyoke Schools.   Holyoke has the highest teen birth rate in Massachusetts and very high rates of sexually transmitted infections: something needs to be done to educate our children so that we can combat these issues.  The science based curriculum will give our children the tools they need to protect themselves, to live a healthy life, and to make smart decisions regarding sex.
  • Monday, April 5th 2010: Come to the school committee meeting!
    1. The curriculum sub-committee meeting starts at 6pm.  Come at 6pm! If the sub-committee votes to approve sex education, they will pass it on to the full school committee meeting, which begins at 7pm. 
    2. Let the committee members know that you, as a voter, support comprehensive science based sex education  Speak out: for the health of Holyoke, for the economic prosperity of Holyoke, and for a brighter future for Holyoke's children! 
    3. All are welcome - parents, teens, young adults: the voices of ALL Holyoke residents count!
We need YOUR help to ensure passage of the sex education curriculum.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We are happy to help you find your school committee representative, or to talk to you more about this issue.  

Thank you!  

*CORRECTION (April 9, 2010) We mistakenly included school committee member Davin Sheehan's name as undecided on the issue of implementing comprehensive science based sex ed.  Mr. Sheehan had decided to support CSE before the school committee meeting, indeed helped to educate other school committee members about the issue,  and was one of the members who helped to pass this effort.  Our apologies to Mr. Sheehan and to any reader's for this misinformation. 

WFCR: Holyoke Teens Want Sex Education (2010-03-24)

WFCR: Holyoke Teens Want Sex Education (2010-03-24)

On March 23, 2010, Karen Brown from WFCR aired a program discussing the issues of teen pregnancy and the lack of comprehensive sex education in Holyoke. Various teens, a school committee member, Holyoke Mayor Elaine Pluta and Dr. Sara Perez McAdoo are all interviewed. Please listen and let us know what you think!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Collecting Signatures

In anticipation of the school committee meeting on March 15, 2010, 3 members of the Holyoke Adolescent Advisory Board met at Holyoke Health Center to collect signatures from Holyoke residents in support of comprehensive science based sex education.

Despite a very slow day at the health center, the girls were very successful and proactive. They approached people to ask for their support, explaining who they were and why comprehensive sex ed is so important to them.  After only 1 hour, they managed to collect 27 letters - pretty much a letter from everyone who walked in the door!

We are very proud of Keishabell, Christabell and Krizia and thank them for their hard work and dedication!  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Holyoke Youth Rising!

~Nothing About Us, Without Us~  

Today the YEAH Network Adolescent Advisory Board (AAB) and Ambassadors from Girls Inc. met with Mayor Elaine Pluta in the City Council Chambers.  They discussed their concerns about teen sexual health, presented the most recent data and shared what they felt contributed most to the high rates of teen birth and sexually transmitted diseases in the community. 

Key Issues identified by the teens:
  • The poor self image of some young girls in Holyoke due to the perception that Holyoke girls "just get pregnant."
  • Incomplete or poorly taught sex education in the public schools
  • The need for sex education at the middle school level in order to prevent unhealthy sexual  health behaviors

The teens made recommendations that included: 

  • Better sex education 
  • Involving teens in the process of implementing changes 
  •  A “big one:" getting parents to talk to teens about sexual health issues 
  • Increased access to work opportunities for teens in order to keep teens engaged in positive work 
  • Working on these issues at a faster pace, especially since the high rates of teen birth and sexually transmitted infection has been a chronic problem in the community.

The teens specifically asked Mayor Pluta how they can help implement the recommendations of the Redevelopment Committee of the City Council that focus on reducing the high rates of teen birth and sexually transmitted infections in Holyoke.

It was amazing to see the leadership and confidence of these young women and men!  The meeting ended with a discussion about specific steps that the teens can take in the next few weeks to be part of Holyoke’s plan to improve the sexual health of teens. 
Next steps:
1. The YEAH Network Adolescent Advisory Board, under the direction of Teresa Vazquez, will be hosting a table at the Holyoke Health Center on Friday afternoon to collect signatures from Holyoke residents supporting comprehensive science based sexual health education.

2.  Members of the Adolescent Advisory Board will attend the School Committee meeting on Monday, March 15th to support  the approval of the sex ed curriculum.

Girls Inc. Ambassadors with Mayor Pluta

 AAB members with Mayor Pluta

Strong work, teens!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Advocacy Update!

Since the last meeting of the Holyoke Latino Leadershop Roundtable, Mayor Elaine Pluta held a meeting taking a first step towards forming a citywide taskforce to address the high rates of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies among youth in Holyoke.   At the meeting YEAH Network staff and partner organizations emphasized the recommendations that came from the Holyoke Roundtable on March 22.  We also advocated for

  • The task force to include parent and teen representation 
  • The task force to encourage the Holyoke Public School Curriculum Subcommittee to move forward with approval of the chosen science based sex education curriculum (After the meeting, the YEAH Network was informed that the curriculum will be presented to the committee on Monday, March 15th.) 
  • The task force to move forward with implementation of the recommendations from the Redevelopment Committee of Holyoke City Council regarding the high teen birth rates in the city.

¡Hablando Claro Springfield!

Latinos Speak out about Adolescent Health! 
A group of 10 Springfield parents gathered on March 3rd to discuss what the Latino community can do to take a stronger leadership role in improving the sexual health of youth. The purpose of the discussion was to highlight the voices of Latino parents as well as their contribution to finding solutions to a health crisis that disproportionately impacts Latino youth.

Below are some of the major themes from the discussion:
  • There exists a difference in views and perceptions of teen sexual health between generations of Latinos.  Younger Latino parents support educating their children about sexual health and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
  • We need to engage men and boys in the dialogue about teen sexual health and increase their role in addressing the high rates of sexually transmitted infectionss and pregnancy in the youth population. We should highlight the importance of healthy relationships.
  • We need to get more information out to the Latino community about this issue in order to increase awareness and provide parents and care givers with the information they need to communicate better with their children about sexual health issues.
The discussion provided a wealth of information that has planted the seeds for the next actions steps. The YEAH Network thanks the participants of this group for being informed, empowered and engaged in improving the sexual health of youth and taking steps to strengthen our families!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reproductive Health News the YEAH! Network is following

  • Discussion of International Women's Day, March 8

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Adolescent Advisory Board Meeting with Mayor Pluta

A note from Teresa Vazquez, AAB coordinator: 
I am delighted to report that teens from the YEAH! Network’s Holyoke High School, Adolescent Advisory Board (AAB) will be meeting with the newly elected Mayor of Holyoke, Elaine Pluta, on March 11, 2010.  The purpose of the meeting is for the teens to express their thoughts and voice their opinions regarding the high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in their community.  Each teen will tell the Mayor his or her recommendations of what should occur to combat these issues and will explain why their recommendations should be implemented.  
How did the teens get to this point of wanting to talk to the Mayor?
Through leadership lessons, teens learned what it takes to become a good leader, what it is to be an advocate, how to advocate and ways their voices could be heard. As part of the leadership skills lessons, teens were asked to pick an issue that affected their lives that they would like to address.  After compiling a list of different issues, they chose teenage pregnancy as their topic. 

When I first spoke to the teens about the opportunity to speak to the Mayor about their chosen topic, although nervous and feeling a bit intimidated by the prospect, I was pleasantly surprised that the majority were willing and eager to take the opportunity to speak their minds.      
So I say good luck to my teens knowing that they will do well, for what they will let the Mayor know comes from the heart and life experience!
Stay tuned for insight from the teens themselves regarding this experience!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Amplify from G-CAPP!

We've just added a new blog/website to our blog-roll: Amplify from the Georgia Sex Education Campaign (G-CAPP).    According to their website,  "G-CAPP and Advocates for Youth are creating systems change at the local and state level to ensure that youth in Georgia receive effective sex education in the public schools, ultimately contributing to a reduction in the state’s teen pregnancy rate. To achieve these goals, G-CAPP will focus its work in three diverse regions of the state that have formed local coalitions, including youth activists committed to implementing effective sex education policies and curricula in their local school systems."

The website is full of information, voices of youth activists, ideas about how to get involved, talking points and more!  Check it out!  

Response to success of Abstinence-only curriculum

A response posted by Cristin O'Grady:    

Efficacy of a Theory-based Abstinence-Only Intervention over 24 Months: A randomized Controlled Trial with Young Adolescents was published in the February 2010 edition of the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine.  The article has gained notoriety because it is the first study that reports that an abstinence-only intervention can be an effective method of delaying sexual initiation. There are several critical points that must be considered when evaluating the author’s finding that the abstinence-only curriculum was effective.

           First, the study uses a different definition of  “abstinence-only” than we commonly are accustomed to in the United States.  There are 8 tenets of any federally approved abstinence-only education plan, the main principle being abstinence-only until marriage.  In contrast, in the abstinence-only intervention evaluated in the study “the target behavior was abstaining…until a time later in life when the adolescent is more prepared to handle the consequences of sex.” Further, the curriculum “did not contain inaccurate information, portray sex in a negative light, or use a moralistic tone.” The curriculum did not attempt to portray abstinence as a morally correct behavior but rather as a healthy decision for a young person to make.  Further, the curriculum recognizes that “waiting for marriage” is not the only healthy, safe way to discuss sex.  In letting go of the moral overtones that tend to dominate abstinence-only education, the decision to have sex becomes less about what one’s church says or one’s community says and more about individual health, safety and autonomy – which might be easier for the ego-driven young person to understand and accept. 

           The curriculum was implemented with a very specific group: 6th and 7th grade African Americans in an economically deprived area of the East coast.  The sample size was quite small, and the participants had to be willing to participate in a weekend health education class. The vast majority of participants in the study had not had sex, a situation that would certainly be different in high school.  As the authors state,  “theory based abstinence-only interventions might be effective with young adolescents but ineffective with older people or people in committed relationships.”  Further, participation in a weekend health intervention may indicate that, as a group, those in the study might be more motivated towards healthy behaviors than the general population. 

            Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the abstinence-only program involved teaching life skills, negotiation skills, and career planning. When children and young adults are taught about sexual decision-making in this context, they learn to evaluate their sexual decisions in the context of life goals.  The ability to make such an evaluation gives much greater meaning to personal decisions made about sex, and provides the individual with more internal motivation to abstain. 

            While none of these issues serve to discredit the results of the study in any way, they do provide a lens through which to view the results and understand how to apply them. This study is just a first step in understanding how an abstinence-only education program with no moral-agenda can be effective.  The study should not serve as an excuse to stop talking about sex with young people, but rather evidence of a way in which sex can be discussed that actually helps young people to make their own healthy decisions. 

Other responses to the article:  

Quick Response to Study of Abstinence Education  - NY Times

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

¡ADELANTE Holyoke!

On March 22, the YEAH! Network, in partnership with Enlace de Familia, organized the 2nd Latino Leadershop Roundtable on Teen Pregnancy.  The purpose of the meeting was to develop a process for engagement with city residents and policy leaders.  Together, they can work to address the high rates of teen births and sexually transmitted diseases in Holyoke.  We had a great turn out and an engaging discussion.

Here are some highlights:
  • A diverse group representing schools, parents, health care workers, policy makers, community activits, community based organizations and academia participated in the discussion
  • Key themes that the group identified as important to consider when addressing the high teen birthrate: 
    • Comprehensive sex education in the schools is just one component - other sectors of the community need to be involved, as well. 
    • The issue should be framed to reflect a broader concept of teens' sexual health, incorporating healthy relationships and prevention.
    • Build the capacity of parents to talk to teens about sexual health as well as provide information and opportunities for parents to become involved in advocating for the reproductive needs of youth
    • Maximize the utilization of community organization programs that address adolescent sexual health
Next Steps:
  • The YEAH! Network will support the City Council Resolution recommendations, which Mayor Pluta may implement
  • We will work to increase community awareness and support for the Resolution
As Holyoke moves forward to address one of the most persistent adolescent health issues int he commnity, the YEAH! Network will be working with key stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable response.

¡Adelante Holyoke!

Monday, March 1, 2010

What's happening in March with the YEAH! Network & Friends

March 4 - Mass Alliance screening of "Glouster 18"

March 8 - International Women's Day.  This year's global theme is: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All 

March 8 - Mass Alliance Information Session on Federal Funding on Teen Pregnancy

March 9 - Teens from the Adolescent Advisory Board, Holyoke parents and teens from Girls Inc. meet with Mayor Pluta to discuss their thoughts and ideas on sexual health education

Throughout March  - Ongoing effort to collect letters in support of comprehensive science based health education in the Holyoke schools.  If you have letters to turn in, or would like to sign a letter, contact Cristin at

Reproductive Health News the YEAH! Network is following

Here are some stories we have been reading in the last week:

  • To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case
    • A discussion of the politics surrounding the abortion debate in the African American community from the New York Times, 26 February 2010
  • Multipurpose Prevention Technologies for Sexual and Reproductive Health: Gaining Momentum and Promise 
    • An article discussing multipurpose prevention technologies (prevention strategies that prevent both STIs and reproductive tract infections) which were discussed and debated at the March 2009 conference on Advancing Prevention Technologies for Sexual and Reproductive Health... "For 2 days, more than 150 participants from developing and industrialized countries discussed and debated opportunities and challenges for advancing technologies that address multiple sexual and reproductive health needs." From RH Positive, 22 February 2010
  •  Why Men's Health is a Feminist Issue   
    • From the Winter 2010 issue of Ms. Magazine, an article about how giving Gardasil, the cervical cancer vaccine, to men is as important to protecting men's health as it is to protecting women's.  
    • Also, a response from The Sexist, a blog out of Washington DC: The Feminist Implications of Male Reproductive Health