Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Discussing sexuality education standards

  • April 24, 2013

Today’s column is dedicated to our Adolescent Advisory Board. The board began in 1999. Teens from all 14 Washington county school districts and one Greene County district have met monthly to review our original curricula, create activities and model respectful behavior for all. Typically, 65 to 75 young people lend their perspectives and their wisdom each meeting. In the past, these teens have been facilitators at six of the 21 youth conferences we’ve hosted since 1988. At their last two conferences, the board created each learning station as part of our “speed-learning” technique. They’ve written pamphlets on sexually transmitted infections and date/acquaintance rape. This year, they tackled a huge task – evaluation of the newly released National Sexuality Education Standards (Core Content and Skills, K-12).

The National Sexuality Education Standards were released in January 2012 as a special publication of the Journal of School Health. Sponsored by the American School Health Association, the National Education Association Health Information Network and the American Association for Health Education, the standards seek to provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age appropriate for students in grades K-12.

I believe an encounter with an adolescent is a cross-cultural experience. I approach experiences with teens with the same respect I brought to my teaching sessions in Beijing, China. The best way to learn about another culture is to listen. In fall 2012, my staff and I began listening to our Adolescent Advisory Board as each month they examined the topics and recommendations in the standards. Some of their comments are below.

• I thought the standards in this book are very well done. Society nowadays requires young children to learn about these things at an earlier and earlier age. – Tamera Bates, 16

• Everyone should be taught the concepts in this book. Our world is changing every day, and this book addresses many things that young adults my age were not taught. This is spot on with what we should be teaching everyone. – Christopher Lacey, 17

• I find it extremely important for young children to know the proper terminology at a young age because, from the beginning, children are taught alternative words for their genitals, as if they are “bad” parts. This sets a tone for children that makes them uncomfortable talking about those parts. – Victoria Smith, 18

• I feel that the material in the standards is very appropriate and should be discussed and addressed. It covers the anatomy of our bodies, how our bodies change over time, how to discover our own identities, pregnancy and reproduction, diseases and prevention, healthy relationships and our personal safety. It addresses each in a very age-appropriate way. I wish some of the information discussed in this book was given to me at a younger age in the same format that they do now. – Chelsea Howard, 18

• The standards teach the truth. There is no easy way to explain sex, STIs, prevention, etc. I believe this book is a great tool to learn from. – Zach Moore, 16

• The standards are exactly what they need to be. Children now need to be aware of what goes on with their bodies and how to react to situations. Keeping this standards will raise the maturity level of kids and will help them develop into wise young adults. Our bodies were created for a reason, and I believe we should be knowledgeable about what goes on. – Caleb Harrington, 17

• I feel the standards help adolescents understand themselves and each other on a level that people may be insecure about. They are a pathway to good health and healthy relationships. – Nick Keller, 15

• In regard to the NSES, I feel very strongly that the curriculum being taught is aiming to educate and protect American youth. Education cannot hurt us; it only helps to remove shame and fear regarding sexuality. I believe it is absolutely vital that self respect and respect for others are taught at an early age and that students should be aware of potential health risks – both emotional and physical. Teaching health concepts from an early age would help cut down on the number of students who keep silent after sexual, physical or emotional abuse. This curriculum gives those individuals the power to stand up for themselves and for others. – Katey Brock, 16

• Talking about this and making it something people (especially younger children) can be comfortable with is great. It helps us become more mature about tough topics. – Katelyn Miller, 18

• I feel that these standards should be taught through adolescence. It helps a child gain a better sense of self, while being gradually introduced. I agree with the last line in this booklet and stand behind it 100 percent. This could only strengthen our community with knowledge and health. – Hunter McClain, 18

• I believe that educating children and adolescents the way that these standards are outlined is important in schooling. Children need to be taught about their feelings and how to describe them to others. This will be essential in everyday life challenges that we all will endure. These standards explain how children should be educated throughout the age levels. – Shelby Dague, 17

Youth Champions

Thank you to our advisory board for another amazing year. Your voices are important. We’re listening! And much gratitude to our peer educators who filmed a drug and alcohol prevention video April 17. Shout out as well to the 28 Trinity young people who met to discuss bullying prevention April 22.


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