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Sex-ed program uses high schoolers to mentor middle schoolers


Caitlin Harrison June 11th, 2009

You probably wouldn't expect two of the most popular kids in school to teach their peers how to say "no" to sex. But two Del City High School graduates are defying that expectation. ...

You probably wouldn't expect two of the most popular kids in school to teach their peers how to say "no" to sex. But two Del City High School graduates are defying that expectation.

FIRST-YEAR PROGRAM
SPECIFIC LESSON
PEER EDUCATORS

Identical twins Isma'il and Isaiah Calhoun recently graduated from high school, where they were basketball and football stars, members of various clubs and recipients of the full-ride Clara Luper Scholarship to Oklahoma City University. The pair has helped educate middle school students on the pressures of sex over the last school year as part of LIMITS (Life Is More Important Than Sex), a program currently comprised of 28 students from three area high schools trained to teach their younger peers the risks of early sexual involvement and how to resist sexual peer pressure.

FIRST-YEAR PROGRAM
The young educators of LIMITS this year come from Del City, Northwest Classen and Crooked Oak, and visited middle schoolers at Taft, Del Crest and Crooked Oak. The first-year program is part of Teen emPower!, an Oklahoma nonprofit dedicated to teaching pregnancy and STD prevention.

"What better examples," Kathy Harms, founder and executive director of Teen emPower!, said of the twins. "They just feed off each other, and they're back and forth and finishing each other's sentences. They're perfect together."

A former teenage mother, Harms founded the nonprofit five years ago in an effort to fight against Oklahoma's rising teen pregnancy and STD rates.

"I just think it's so important that we get education to them that I never got, and that they still today don't get," she said. "Unfortunately, the media (are) teaching them, and peers are teaching them information in a way that's not reflective of good health."

The Teen emPower! staff teaches seventh- and eighth-grade students sex education without shame, blame or guilt, which encompasses puberty, reproductive anatomy, birth control and STD prevention. The LIMITS sector of the program, taught by the student peer educators, focuses more on the social aspects, such as peer pressure and assertiveness techniques. Although the organization addresses abstinence, it stresses safe sex and birth control, as well.

"Certainly, we emphasize abstinence, because that's what is best for teens," Harms said. "Limiting information is a dangerous thing. They need to know how to handle a situation."

SPECIFIC LESSON
The LIMITS peer educators rotate to three metro middle schools throughout the school year, and most teach a specific lesson in every classroom. The Calhoun twins, who always teach together, have spent most of their time instructing on assertiveness techniques.

"I think when talking about this topic, it's easier for the students to talk with us because we're around their age," Isma'il Calhoun said. "Being real and honest is very important in this program. When we go into the classrooms to teach, we invite them to ask personal questions even."

The two often incorporate role playing, and even add some of their own humor to make the sensitive topic a little less awkward.

"That's what gets everybody involved," Isaiah Calhoun said. "I wish I had high school students come when I was in middle school and teach about important issues like this."

He said he hopes to help promote positive change as part of LIMITS.

"The reality is, most children in today's time know about sex, but they don't know the consequences and what could happen," he said. "That's one of the reasons I decided to join LIMITS."

Not just any student can become a peer educators, however. The organization is currently recruiting educators for next year, and a selection committee will choose from those who apply.

"You have to consider who you're putting in front of younger students," Harms said. "We want to grow it. A lot of it's determined upon the applications that we get. We won't just choose anyone."

PEER EDUCATORS
Harms must hire almost an entirely new staff of peer educators for next year since most of them recently graduated.

"I'm looking forward to working with our new group," she said, "but at the same time, this has been the pilot program for LIMITS "¦ and so it's going to be tough because so many of them are seniors, and they've done such a fabulous job."

However, both Harms and the Calhouns said they hope the conclusion of the school year won't quite mark the end of the young men's affiliation with the program. Harms hopes to hire the two to train the incoming peer educators during the program's summer training session. But, the organization doesn't yet have the funding to do so.

"Isma'il and Isaiah expressed to me that they would like to continue to work with us ... but they also needed employment this summer," Harms said. "So I just got it in my head, let's see if we can get them some money to "¦ use their talents to help community."

Harms and her organization's board members are searching for about $5,000 to employ the Calhouns part-time this summer. If she is able to hire them, the guys will teach the new peer educators everything they know about the job, including how the program works, how to teach, what to expect in the classroom and how to respond to certain questions.

"A lot of high school students get the idea that if they're involved in this program, that they're going to go out and just look like they're not cool," Harms said. "That's why these guys are so instrumental, because they're the coolest of the cool."

The Calhouns have done more than simply address sexual pressures, she said. They have served as positive role models for students.

"The younger people are just fixated on them. They're watching every move and listening to every word. It's incredible to watch," she said. "They have it all, and that's why it's so ideal to bring them in with younger students. They're going to succeed in whatever they do." "Caitlin Harrison

 
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