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Healthy Respect Media Release

Healthy Respect Curriculum Discussed at National Conference

12/17/09 -- For one co-ed, classroom lessons apply to real life situations

How do you get kids in today's fast-paced world, who are bombarded by sexual messages, to accept abstinence until marriage as the best course for success in life?

You take the findings from the field of child psychology and development and apply them to your abstinence curricula.

This was the basic point made by Dr. Nanci Coppola, Executive Director of Healthy Respect, in her address earlier this month at a national conference sponsored by the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs in Washington, D.C.

In fact, Dr. Coppola said, the abstinence message is not a foreign language to children as they move from late childhood to adolescence and beyond. It can be linked to the basic human development process of identity formation and value development, and the need for self-esteem and acceptance.

Her talk drew upon the theories and insights of widely accepted child development experts Erik Erikson, Abraham Maslow, Jean Piaget and Albert Bandura.

In this context, abstinence education must become part of a larger curriculum of character development and decision-making that matches the needs of children at different stages of development to healthy choices that will advance rather than compromise their development and future success, Dr. Coppola pointed out.

Abstinence is a key component of the curriculum because of the often irreversible consequences that can result from sexual activity, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Yet, she stressed, the emotional, social and developmental aspects are also key to a holistic abstinence program that will ultimately be successful in affecting the attitudes and behavior of students.

Dr. Coppola also explained how the Healthy Respect curriculum has been shown by independent evaluators to reach students in four basic categories of child development.

Dr. Elaine Walker, a professor of education at Seton Hall University, who is one of the independent evaluators of Healthy Respect, said of the talk, "Dr Coppola's presentation highlighted the importance of carefully examining the underlying assumptions behind each curriculum, and how to critically assess the extent to which these assumptions are well-aligned to the behaviors that we wish to change."

She added, "Her presentation could have been a keynote for its thoughtfulness and clarity- and because it hit on a salient issue that all prevention grantees ought to keep in mind."

Dr Coppola highlighted the following independent findings, based on confidential student surveys by independent evaluators:

1) Healthy Respect is positively associated with increased knowledge about the risk of sexually transmitted infection and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

2) Students completing the Healthy Respect program were more likely to report commitment to abstinence until marriage than they were before the classes, and than students who didn't take the classes.

3) Students completing the program were more likely to view abstinence until marriage as the norm for sexual behavior than they were before the classes, and than students who didn't take the classes.

4) Students completing the program were more likely to perceive the harmful effects of teen sex than they were before the classes, and than students who didn't take the classes. In fact, Healthy Respect students were nearly 10 times as likely to report that "teen sex makes it difficult for a person to study and stay in school in the future."

5) Healthy Respect is positively associated with an increase in parent-child communication about sex and drugs.