Tuesday, September 13, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Two Oak Park working mothers are on the cutting edge of sex education, which, according to reams of new research, is more effective when it goes beyond the standard instruction on topics like STDs, sexual function and sexual abuse, and starts as young as kindergarten.
Earlier this year, Nara Nayar and Nina Brewer-Davis founded Oak Park Our Whole Lives (OWL), a K-8 comprehensive sexual education program modeled on a national program designed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. There are numerous local versions of the OWL program scattered across the country, including a longstanding program at Oak Park’s Unity Temple.
The curriculum for each program is based on the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education drafted by the National Guidelines Task Force. The task force is an arm of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a national nonprofit that develops and disseminates information on sexual education.
Oak Park’s Unity Temple has been offering a similar version of comprehensive sexual education for at least two decades, said Brewer-Davis. A mother of two young children, Brewer-Davis teaches philosophy at Dominican University and grew up as a member of Beacon Unitarian Church, which eventually folded into Unity Temple.
“Unity Temple has been doing sexuality education since the 1980s at least,” she said. “When I was 14, I went through a previous version of this program and it made a big difference in my life. I’ve been grateful for that and been telling people about it ever since.”
Unity Temple’s OWL offers classes to first, fifth and eighth-grade children who are members of its congregation. On its website, the church describes its program as a “values-based sexuality curriculum.” The program, the church notes, doesn’t contain any religious doctrine or references outside of an optional component called “Sexuality and Our Faith.” Participants are encouraged to “act for justice,” “clarify values and improve decision-making skills,” and are educated about “sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation.”
Nayar, whose two children go to Oak Park schools, said she connected with Brewer-Davis last year through OPRF Mom Mail, an email database that includes more than 8,000 families, seeking information on how to get her children into the curriculum.
The two mothers founded Oak Park OWL with the help of grant funds. The entire program, the founders said, will include not many more than 40 children in its first year of instruction and will be operated by volunteers with expertise in education or social work, and/or who are parents in the community.
All volunteers will undergo an intensive training regimen, which will also function as a licensing procedure, before the program begins. Most of the program, with the exception of the optional religious component and the membership restriction, overlaps with the Unity Temple version.
Oak Park OWL is scheduled to begin offering classes in October at the Oak Park Friends School in three age categories — kindergarten and first grade, fourth and fifth grades, and seventh and eighth grades. Registration in the fourth- and fifth-grade course is already full. The K-1 grade and fourth-fifth grade courses each cost $100 per child while the seventh-eighth grade course costs $200 per child. Scholarships are available.
Nayar and Brewer-Davis said registration is open to children beyond Oak Park, as long as their parents are willing to bring them to the courses regularly.
In Illinois, state policy mandates that school districts provide a comprehensive health program for K-8 students that includes a sex education component for students in grades 6th through 8th, Kamm noted.
According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, “developmentally appropriate and evidence-based education about human sexuality and sexual reproduction over time provided by pediatricians, schools, other professionals, and parents” has been shown to help “to prevent and reduce the risks of adolescent pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections for children and adolescents with and without chronic health conditions and disabilities in the United States.”
In the Netherlands, where comprehensive sexual education starts in kindergarten, residents have among the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world. According to federal statistics, births per 1,000 women, ages 15 to 19, was around 27 in 2013. In the Netherlands, that figure is around five, according to United Nations data. VFP
For more information on Oak Park Our Whole Lives, click here.