CMS to offer abstinence program
Beginning on Feb. 20, Cassville Middle School seventh and eighth grade students will have the opportunity to take part in the abstinence-based education program Choosing the Best.
"This is a good program," said Terry Jamieson, middle school principal. "We hope to see it become something ongoing at the school. It is being offered purely on a volunteer basis."
Middle school officials began offering information on the new program during an open house event held at the school on Monday. Amy Cole, middle school counselor, also spoke about the program during her Counselor's Coffee session today (Wednesday).
Additional information on the abstinence program is being offered through the R-4 School District's Facebook page and will be distributed to students to take home to their parents this week. Parents must give consent for their children to take part in the program by completing a permission form, which must be returned to the school by Feb. 20.
"In 2007, Eric White (former middle school principal and current intermediate school principal) suggested we find some kind of program on abstinence," said Cole. "I researched the programs out there and found this one. We actually purchased the program, but we were not able to implement it at the time."
Missouri State University recently began using the program, called Choosing the Best, in a study being conducted in southwest Missouri. Students who take part in the program complete anonymous pre- and post-tests, and the information gathered from the surveys is combined with information from other school districts.
The study, which is funded by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-based education in reducing first-time and repeat teen pregnancies.
"I went to training last week, and the program is very visual," said Cole. "It is interactive. Each lesson starts with a video and includes an activity or hands-on demonstration.
"Students are also given interviews to complete with their parents each night," said Cole. "These are designed as a way for parents and students to open up the line of communication or approach the subject."
Missouri State University brought the abstinence-based education program to Barry County last year. The Monett School District was the first district to take part in the program and study. This year, the program is being expanded to the Cassville and Southwest school districts.
The abstinence-based education program is designed to reduce teen pregnancy in southwest Missouri. The program teaches teens about the benefits of choosing abstinence and how to communicate with parents/guardians, families and peers.
Jason Mackey, Cassville First Baptist Church youth minister, will serve as the boys' instructor and Lisa Miller, of Kornerston, will serve as the girls' instructors for the Cassville School District's program.
Both Mackey and Miller have been trained in the Choosing the Best curriculum. An independent evaluation, funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, has shown that Choosing the Best decreases teen sexual activity by 47 percent.
The abstinence-based education program will be offered over a 10-day period. The program will be coordinated through the school's physical education classes. Instruction time, which will be offered each day during the 10-day period, will be around 50 minutes in length.
During the abstinence-based education program, students will be asked to listen to all lesson presentations and complete related activities and homework assignments. Students will not be forced to participate in any discussions about their opinions, experiences or lack of experiences.
Students will be asked to complete pre- and post-tests on the first and last day of the program. Questions included in the surveys will fall into the following categories:
* Attitudes and awareness, including risks and consequences of sexual activity outside of marriage and physical and mental health benefits of abstinence until marriage.
* Personal efficacy, which is the confidence in the ability to resist peer pressure, explain and defend the value of abstinence and avoid situations and people who would compromise the student's value positions.
* Future orientation, including the perception of attainable options regarding education, careers, marriage and family life and the extent to which early sexual activity would jeopardize those options.
* Independence from peer pressure, or a student's ability to follow their own value system and personal goals and communication standards and values.
* Social support, which is the perception of support from family and friends.
* Behavioral intentions, or the student's level of intent and commitment to abstain from sexual activity.
* High-risk behaviors, including whether or not the student has ever used drugs or alcohol or engaged in sexual activity.
* Demographics, which includes the student's gender, ethnicity, grade and family composition or structure.
Surveys will not include student names, and all information will be kept confidential.
Although the nature of the topic of the program could possibly bring on emotional distress or cause a student to feel embarrassed, instructors have been trained to identify students who may be upset and how to communication with those students and/or refer them to counseling.
Students will have the option of discontinuing their participation in the program at any time without consequence.
Students who choose not to participate in the program or those who are not given parental permission to take part in the program will be provided with alternative lessons or assignments in a different classroom during the implementation of the program.
"The goals of the program are to create awareness in students and parents, and empowerment in students to make positive decisions regarding life changing events in their lives," said Cole. "I hope it will empower parents to open the line of communication to discuss this subject with their children, as well."
Parents who have questions about the program or the study are encouraged to call Todd Daniel at 417-836-4631.