(this text is courtesy NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation.)
There is a crisis in the city of Petersburg, Virginia, which bears the unfortunate distinction of having the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and high school dropouts in the Commonwealth. For the sake of the community and its youth, this must change. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation is working to empower the Petersburg’s youth to protect their health and their futures through our Sex Education Awareness NOW (SEdA NOW!) campaign, which is harnessing public support for increasing age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education and prevention programs in Petersburg and creating momentum for change.
All public school districts are encouraged to follow Virginia’s Family Life Education (FLE) guidelines for sex education, stressing the importance of abstinence as it pertains to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection prevention, but this sex education curriculum is not mandatory or implemented universally. NPCVF agrees that teaching the benefits of abstinence and healthy relationship values must be at the core of any good sex education program for Virginia’s youth; however, it also cannot be the only element. Young people must also be given the medically-accurate information they need to be able to prevent pregnancy and sexual transmitted infections when they do become sexually active. The current FLE sex ed guidelines were put in place in 1987. NPCVF has attempted for years to pass a requirement in the General Assembly for public schools to teach sex education and for it to be evidence-based and comprehensive, but without success. That’s why we decided to take our campaign directly to the people on a grassroots level and engage the community to call for improved sex education curriculum in their local schools.
The urgent need for sustained comprehensive, evidence-based sex education in Petersburg is readily apparent. With approximately 90 out of every 1,000 girls ages 10-19 in the city becoming pregnant each year, Petersburg has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Virginia, far surpassing statewide and national averages. In 2008 alone, there were 187 teen pregnancies in the city. Additionally, one out of every 84 people in Petersburg has HIV or AIDS, a much higher rate than the statewide average of one in 370 people. The goal of SEdA Now! is to increase public awareness of the need to expand sex education and health resources in Petersburg, demonstrate how this will help improve the city’s public health and build a stronger community, and harness grassroots support to advocate for improvements in sex ed curriculum offerings.
Over the next year, we will focus on bringing key stakeholders to the table and engaging volunteers to help with community outreach; organizing a Youth Advisory Council; recruiting and training youth mentors; bringing a sustainable coalition together to review and select viable curricula options; and finally working with local school officials to support comprehensive, science-based sex ed in the Petersburg school system. We now have a full-time community organizer on the ground to implement a two-year plan starting now!