Inside the Classroom
teachers talk about the challenges and triumphs of
teaching abstinence to inner-city kids
Healthy Respect has a proven, well-researched
abstinence curriculum that focuses on the positive values young people
relate to: self-respect, respect for others and future success.
Yet we know that when the school bell rings and the classroom door closes,
the teacher, to a large extent, is the curriculum. This is true especially
when the subject is personal behavior and values.
That’s why Healthy Respect hires and trains our
own teachers who believe in our curriculum and work in male-female teams
in the classroom. Each team files reports after every classroom session,
so new ideas can be shared and common problems solved immediately. The
Healthy Respect teacher – young, dynamic and convinced of the
wisdom and possibility of teen abstinence -- is a key to the success
of our program. It sets us apart from other abstinence programs that
rely on a school’s regular teachers to present their programs.
We spoke to two Healthy Respect teachers – Wayne
Williams and Jerrilyn Montgomery – to see how they make the case
for abstinence to sometimes skeptical teens in New York’s inner-city
Q: The response of some high school students to abstinence must
be ‘Are you kidding?’ How do you deal with that attitude?
Jerrilyn: Yes, we get a lot of disbelief at first, with kids
asking is that lifestyle possible. We respond that we want to empower
them, not take something away from them. We show that a healthy lifestyle
is not boring or lame, and that abstinence is really in their best interest
physically, emotionally, socially and academically. We help them to
see that they are special, important, and everybody wants to feel special
and important. Girls are more than sperm receptacles, and boys are more
than animals who have to act on every urge. They are human beings, and
Wayne: We often hear: ‘Are you real?’ Or: ‘Well,
you can always use a condom to protect yourself.’ We try to demythologize
the urban legends they come with about condoms. We give them the real
statistics about sexually transmitted diseases, and that condoms do
not offer 100 percent protection from any of them. We also tell them
that condoms do not protect the heart, do not protect reputations. Resist
the pressures of teen sex, we tell them. Think for yourself about what
you want for yourself and for your future.
Q: What sort of classroom methods do you use?
Wayne: I conduct a contest in which I challenge the kids to come
up with the surest way for an unmarried teenager to avoid STDs and pregnancy.
I put down a dollar and say that my money is on abstinence. If anyone
can come up with a ‘safe sex’ method that is safer, I tell
them, they can have the money. Every time someone guesses and is proved
wrong, I increase the payoff. They really get interested, and they come
up with all kinds of crazy ideas like a full-body condom or some magic
formula that isn’t real. The great part is that when one student
comes up with an idea, I ask the class if it works out to be safer than
abstinence, and the other students are quick to find the faults because
they want the game to keep going so they can have a chance at the money.
At the end of the program, we all agree that abstinence is the only
sure way to avoid sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy.
Jerrilyn: We talk about relationships a lot. They ask all about
different sorts of relationships and what they mean, boyfriends, girlfriends,
just friends. They especially want to know how anyone can stay abstinent
if everyone around them is having sex. We role play different scenarios
with boys and girls and ask at different points in the scene what different
choices could be made, and what one choice would lead to instead of
another choice. We give them something to think about before they get
into these situations, and help them to make decisions beforehand for
self-respect and healthy lifestyles. We show them ways to avoid going
along with the crowd without looking lame or strange. We tell them,
you have to be able to think for yourselves because we’re not
going to be there all the time.
Q: What do you say to teens who tell you that they’re old
enough to do what they want and don’t anyone to tell them?
Wayne: We talk about different ways of being ‘old enough,’
different kinds of maturity. There’s the physical maturity that
comes with puberty, but there’s also the internal maturity that
is just as important. We highlight four kinds of personal maturity:
social maturity, the ability to respect others; moral maturity, the
ability to decide and act based on beliefs; intellectual maturity, the
ability to think things through to the end and just not make impulsive
decisions; and emotional maturity, the ability to control and direct
feelings in a healthy way. We role play, showing the different levels
of maturity, to show how full maturity involves the whole person in
his relationship to himself and others around him.
Jerrilyn: We have a formula that we always come back to. DO NO
HARM. Do no harm to yourself, to others and to your future. Any time
a question comes up and someone wants to know if this decision or behavior
is okay, we go back to the DO NO HARM principles. It helps them keep
things in perspective, and keeps everyone focused on the important things