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.

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