Concerns of inadequate sex education in schools prompts local providers to offer new classes
Abstinence is the only form of birth control taught in Moffat County Schools, high birth rates by teens causes area providers to offer new reproductive health classes
September 12, 2016
Craig — Students attending Moffat County schools are not being taught sex education and many believe this accounts for the high rate of teen pregnancies experienced in the area.
Moffat County has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's 2015 statistics.
A new series of classes called "Building a Healthy You" has been designed to help parents and teens become better informed about reproductive health.
"There is a huge teen pregnancy issue in our community," said Kathy Bockelman, who is on the board of the Yampa Valley Pregnancy Center and has helped plan this month's three-part series of classes for parents and students.
Out of 436 female teens in Moffat County, 13 give birth in 2015, according to the health department.
Giving parents and teens strategies for avoiding teen pregnancy, reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and improving general reproductive health are some of the goals for the new series of reproductive health classes.
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"What's challenging as a family practice doctor, these teenagers are so healthy, that they don't come in often, and I'm not sure that they are getting enough education," said Dr. Elise Sullivan, who provides family medicine through the Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic.
Sullivan, with support of The Memorial Hospital, has been joined by providers with Northwest Colorado Health, teenagers and community members to provide a holistic view of reproductive health and will fill a gap in current school curriculum.
Moffat County Schools are an abstinence based system which means "we are not allowed to teach sex ed. We teach what happens to the body during puberty," said Karie Fisher, district nurse. "Teen pregnancy has always been a problem in Moffat County, we have one of the higher rates in the state."
At least one area teen doesn't think teaching abstinence goes far enough.
"Realistically, teenagers are going to continue having sex whether we tell them to or not, so we’re better off giving them the knowledge they need to do so safely," said Olivia Neece, a junior at Moffat County High School who has also been helping to plan this month's reproductive health classes.
In addition to tracking birth rates, the health department has seen increases in the sexually transmitted disease Syphilis and Chlamydia across the state.
Young people face multiple barriers to accessing quality STD prevention services, including lack of health insurance or ability to pay, lack of transportation, discomfort with facilities and services designed for adults, and concerns about confidentiality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"A lot of the teens don't know that the Northwest Colorado Health provides access to free counseling and services if they need it," Sullivan said.
Schools might not be the best place for teens to learn about free services, as there are real challenges to teaching teens about sex in the schools.
"The biggest challenges are determining what to include and ensuring parents that the district is not attempting to impose or advocate a particular lifestyle or lifestyle choices to their student," said Dave Ulrich, superintendent of Moffat County School District.
Sullivan plans to partner with the First Congregational United Church of Christ to offer "Our Whole Life" a new holistic curriculum presented through the churches, she said.
Building a Better You begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday, with a parents-only preview night and continues 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20 with a presentation for high school students. The program finishes at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 with a middle school student presentation where parents welcome. All sessions will be held at Colorado Northwestern Community College in room 175.
"I want parents and students to know this class isn’t meant to be intimidating," Neece said. "We don’t want to lecture people or tell them they’re wrong for being sexually active. This class is meant to be a safe environment to educate students and give them the knowledge to be safe and responsible."