Freshman year of high school can be an intimidating transition for students.
Besides the social navigation, there is an increase in responsibility and learning academic and life skills.
A new course offered to ninth grade students at LaRue County High School promotes learning about responsible ways for students to take care of their bodies.
The course, “Reducing the Risk,” which began this month, focuses on sexually transmitted diseases and infections, human immunodeficiency virus and pregnancy prevention methods.
Stefanie Goff, director of the Lincoln Trail Health Department, Hardin County Clinic in Radcliff, said the course is a part of a national research effort made possible through the conjunction of the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the company Mathematica Policy Research.
Kentucky was selected by HHS to participate in the study.
Reducing the Risk courses are funded through grants from the Personal Responsibility Education Program.
“LaRue County High School was chosen to participate in the research program and we are very honored that one of our schools was selected,” said Goff.
Benita Decker, adolescent health initiatives coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Public Health, Division of Women’s Health, contacted the school by letter in March. She described the program as “a classroom-based curriculum designed to improve knowledge, norms about sex, and self-efficacy to refrain from sex or to use protection. RTR lessons provide content about abstaining from sexual activity and/or using condoms or other forms of contraception.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” Goff said. “We’re testing this program out this year as a pilot program, targeted towards ninth graders.”
The course aligns with the state’s health curriculum requirements for ninth grade and is incorporated into the regular physical education and health courses.
Like other courses, “Reducing the Risk” will be taught throughout the entirety of the school year.
“It’s a program that I feel helps prevent teen pregnancy; it gives students the knowledge on treatments and consequences and provides information on refusal and delay tactics,” said Goff. “We want to make sure that we’re conducting a program that is educational and beneficial to our students.”
Goff said the program brings to light many topics that students might not discuss with their parents at home.
“So many times parents may tell their children why they shouldn’t do certain things but the problem is that peer pressure plays a large part in determining what students will do and what they won’t.”
Goff added, “It’s a topic that’s not talked about in many households and we want to help them to make healthier choices.”
Diana Leathers, health educator for LaRue County, was selected to teach the course to 64 students at LCHS.
“The primary objective is to test the effectiveness of the RTR program,” said Susan Zief, senior researcher for Mathematica Policy Research. “With our two sets of schools (control and treatment) we can define that any difference in sexual activity between students in the schools is directly related to the program alone and nothing else.”
Zief said surveys would better define what students are like prior to taking the course and after, as well as providing a better sense of how outside sources can effect or influence their behaviors.
“Each of the surveys asks basic background information questions in addition to more personal ones relating to the number of partners a student has had or what kinds of protection are used if a student is sexually active,” said Zief.
The surveys include questions about personal drug use, emotional status (what students are thinking and feeling), extracurricular activities, and home life.
Students receive a workbook they get to keep at the course’s end in addition to informational pamphlets provided by the health department.
Parents were asked to complete a permission form, allowing the Mathematica group to use and collect data pertaining to their child’s response on the three surveys given to students.
Only students whose parents gave permission for their responses to be collected will be surveyed.
The first survey was administered prior to the beginning of the course.
Students will take the second survey during the 2014-15 school year and the third during the 2015-16 school year.
Zief said the results from the survey will not only benefit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but will also help local decision makers.
“Even though the study is sponsored federally and is a part of the PREP program across the country, the findings from this study will be important to local decision makers. Funding for health education, and education in general – at all levels, federal and local, is being based on statistical findings.”