Wyoming eighth-grader empowers her peers to make safer choices
PPWNM Safer Choices
12 – 4 p.m. Jan. 16, 23, 30 and Feb. 6
4010 Kalamazoo SE, Grand Rapids
Free plus students receive a $25 gift certificate and book
Last spring, eighth-grader Ellie Grossman came home angry after her first day in sex education class at Wyoming Newhall Middle School. The curriculum was an abstinence only program, Willing to Wait, taught by staff of the Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC), a Grand Rapids pro-life organization offering testing and counseling to people with unplanned pregnancies.
“The curriculum they were teaching is pretty typical of what’s offered in the majority of West Michigan schools,” says Ellie’s mom, Stacy Grossman. “It’s very morality based. The problem Ellie had was that she didn’t think it was right that these people should tell her how she should think or behave–or to abstain from sex until or unless she was married. It left her gay and lesbian friends out of the equation. She asked me, ‘What about people who never get married or what if I’m like you and don’t get married until I’m 30? This is just wrong.’ Ellie felt there was no dialog, just a lecture on how to think, what to do and making her feel guilty if she were to choose to have sex. She knew a friend in her class who had had sex and wondered how he was feeling sitting there through it.”
Numerous studies* have proven that abstinence only sex education has the same results as no sex education at all. The Willing to Wait curriculum also demonized condom use by highlighting failure rates, leaving Ellie’s friends asking among themselves, “Why bother even wearing them?”
“Ellie said a kid would ask a question and the presenter would ignore it. The kids felt shamed. She asked me, ‘Isn’t sex supposed to be a great thing? They made me feel like its awful and horrible.’ The curriculum was withholding information, telling kids they weren’t capable of making good choices,” Stacy relates. “Has anyone ever been able to make better decisions when they are less informed?”
Considering the following statistics*, it’s hard to conceive why local schools and community organizations continue to throw away money on a failed approach:
- The teen pregnancy rate has increased in Michigan and nationwide for the past two consecutive years after 14 years of declines.
- Teen pregnancy and STI rates in Kent and Muskegon Counties are consistently higher than the rates for the State of Michigan as a whole.
- More than 40 percent of Michigan high school students report having had sexual intercourse.
- 218,000 teen births in Michigan cost taxpayers an estimated $5.8 billion from 1991–2004.
- An estimated 50% of sexually active people will contract an STI by age 25.
On the bright side, many more studies have found that comprehensive sex education encourages teenagers to delay sexual activity and engage in protective behaviors if they do become sexually active.
Armed with this data and information provided by Planned Parenthood of Western and Northern Michigan (PPWNM), Stacy and Ellie went to the Wyoming Public Schools reproductive health committee meeting the following week. Stacy says it was Ellie’s passionate presentation about the need for more comprehensive education about sex that swayed the committee and then the school board to vote out the abstinence only curriculum and vote in Safer Choices, Planned Parenthood’s comprehensive sex education program. Safer Choices is now taught in all of the district’s schools.
While Ellie doesn’t think her part was such a big deal, Stacy does. In fact, the new program will not only lower teen pregnancy rates but literally save lives, considering the rising rates of HIV transmission among teenagers in Kent County.
Ellie and Stacy have now broadened their focus to all school districts throughout West Michigan. Mother and daughter are active in a newly formed group, Parent Protection Connection, which provides support and resources for parents and students who want to see comprehensive sex education taught in their schools. The group now has more than 20 parents representing eight different school districts. “Our goal is to educate and advocate for medically accurate, developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive sex education in schools,” Stacy says.
Stacy and Ellie also helped arrange for an upcoming session of the PPWNM Safer Choices program to be held in their church, Plymouth UCC, 4010 Kalamazoo SE. The free four-week program will meet Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. January 16, 23, 30, and February 6.
“Comprehensive sex education teaches abstinence plus birth control plus information. It’s trusting kids to make healthy choices. It teaches refusal skills, how to develop healthy relationships instead of preaching ‘Don’t have sex!’ And, it’s been proven to work,” Stacy says. “Sex education is not a bumper sticker to be preached but a skill to be learned.”
For information and registration for this and other Safer Choices classes, visit the (PPWNM) Website, call (616) 774-7005 or stop by the PPWNM offices at 425 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids. For information or to become involved with Parent Protection Connection, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guttmacher Institute, Michigan Department of Community Health, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy