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Extension helps reduce risk for teens
When the Missouri Department of Secondary Education needed a partner to teach a curriculum on HIV and pregnancy prevention to the state's teachers, administrators there called on MU Extension State Specialist Lynn Pike. Pike solicited the interest of regional specialists and a partnership was born which proved mutually beneficial.
For DESE, extension provided a network of regional specialists who could share the curriculum with teachers from Kansas City to the Bootheel. For extension, the partnership provided an opportunity to show educators the breadth of extension's expertise.
"When we teach teachers in a more local area, they begin to view extension as partners in education." says Lisa Wallace, a regional human development specialist in Henry County.
DESE sent Wallace and Suzanne Dell-St. Clair, to a national seminar on "Reducing the Risk," one of only four curriculums identified by the Center for Disease Controls as an effective preventive measure against disease and pregnancy. In turn, Wallace and Dell-St. Clair, a regional specialist in Camden County, taught the curriculum to 17 regional specialists who then taught it to teachers in their area.
"It seemed natural that we use extension specialists," says Janet Wilson, DESE's HIV prevention coordinator. "They're out in the field. They helped eliminate the Lone Ranger approach to providing training for schools across the state."
Extension specialists helped train 150 9th and 10th grade teachers in a curriculum educators hope will give teens the tools to drastically reduce their risk of getting pregnant or contracting a disease. The curriculum, says Wallace, is practical. Telling teens to "just say no" isn't effective. "They want friends," says Wallace. Instead, the curriculum, shows teens how to say no.
"The curriculum focuses on skill building, on refusal skills and delaying tactics," says Wallace. "It's very practical." Most of the activities are role-playing. Teens recite scripts and practice saying no without jeopardizing friendship. "We teach them how to say no without cutting ties. That's very important for a teenager."
The curriculum also acknowledges that role-playing itself can be intimidating -- even for adults. So moderators introduce it slowly and gradually build students' skills.
Being involved in teaching such a respected curriculum has been good exposure for extension, says Lynn Blinn Pike, state human development specialist for MU Extension. The CDC employs stringent criteria before identifying prevention curriculum. Reducing the Risk was the first such program the agency approved so MU Extension has been on the forefront in introducing the curriculum to Missouri.
Any curriculum chosen must demonstrate a change in behavior among teens, not just knowledge and attitude. The CDC only identifies programs that lead to such changes as a delay in the initiation of sexual intercourse, a reduction in the number of sexual partners or an increase in the use of condoms.
As a result of this partnership, the Upjohn Company just awarded extension a $25,000 seed grant to evaluate the effectiveness of the Reducing the Risk curriculum, says Pike. "We're fortunate to be able to teach such a solid curriculum," she says. "At the same time, teens across the state are fortunate to be on the receiving end as well."