Lighthouse steers kids away from sex

Published 10:42 pm Friday, April 10, 2009

According to study results released this week by the University of Texas School of Public Health, 12 percent of 12-year-olds have already had sex and an additional 14 percent have participated in various sex acts.

“These findings are alarming, because youth who start having sex before age 14 are much more likely to have multiple lifetime sexual partners, use alcohol or drugs before sex and have unprotected sex, all of which put them at greater risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant,” Christina Markham, assistant professor of behavior science at the school said in the study. “We need to develop prevention programs that address the needs of students who are not yet sexually active in order to promote skills and attitudes to help them wait until they are older to have sex.”

Here in Suffolk, there is an organization that is devoted to providing those types of prevention programs in the city’s public schools.

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Lighthouse Outreach Inc. is a non-profit organization aimed at giving young people safe alternatives and educational tools to make life decisions.

“Our mission is to help kids 12 to 18 to avoid risky behavior and live healthier lives in the community,” said Tasha Dawson, education director for Lighthouse.

Lighthouse recently received a five-year renewable grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to educate young people about abstinence and postponing sexual activity until marriage.

With this grant, Lighthouse partnered with Suffolk Public Schools to provide a new curriculum for the Family Life education component that addresses peer and media pressures, as well as the development of strong character traits, such as self respect and discipline, in order to make sound decisions.

Health teachers still teach the course, but Lighthouse staff members train them on the new curriculum.

By the end of May, all middle school students in Suffolk will have gone through the “Choosing the Best Way, Path and Life” course, unless they have been opted out of the course by parents.

On Friday, participating students at John Yeates Middle School received their certificates for completing the program.

Dawson said the need for a curriculum that addresses abstinence is evident already at the middle school level.

“Even when you go into the classroom you can tell how much the children know,” Dawson said. “You can tell by the questions they ask, the comments they make and from the conversations you overhear.”

The curriculum does not force students to choose abstinent lifestyles, and it also covers contraception options, but students are asked anonymously whether or not they are going to pursue an abstinent lifestyle.

Additionally, the organization hosts enrichment activities, including school assemblies, parent education workshops and after-school programs in Hampton and Newport News.

“All of these things allow the kids to open the door of communication with their parents,” Dawson said. “It’s been very positive for the kids and the parents.”