In 2009, Alaska recorded a leap in the number of teen pregnancy rates. A look back at prominent events that year shows Bristol Palin heavily in the spotlight, the pregnant teen daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin. She had a lot of company — in her state and in the rest of the nation.
According to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen births increased by 3 percent nationally. In Alaska, which was one of 26 states to see a rise, we led the way, with a 19 percent increase in the teenage birthrate from the previous year.
A lot of effort since then has gone into addressing the trend. Analysis after Palin’s abstinence talks tended to complain that any discussion helping young women and men needed to be a broad, multi-pronged approach at providing the best education possible.
Good news: last fall, Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic was awarded a three-year grant from the State of Alaska’s Section of Women’s Children’s and Family Health supporting youth education for reproductive health topics.
The peer-education program will be run through KBFPC’s R.E.C. Room, a youth resource and enrichment cooperative whose mission is to foster healthy relationships, health education, and healthy choices for youth in Homer.
The Alaska State “Promoting Health Among Teens Comprehensive Abstinence and Safer Sex Intervention” program endeavors to empower youth by strengthening and increasing positive experiences relating to healthy relationships, STI/HIV awareness and prevention, and teenage pregnancy prevention. This is a nationally used curriculum, modified for use in Alaska, and to hand teens 13-19 the educational tools to develop into healthy citizens who are proud and responsible.
The unique and progressive feature of this program is the Peer-to-Peer Education factor. Two Coordinators have been hired— Anna Meredith and Doug Koester—and will lead the PHAT program by working with the four newly hired Peer Educators: Trevor Waldorf, Kate Kerns, Zoe Story, and Dylan Wylde. (Kerns is the 2012 Young Woman of Distinction to be honored March 23.)
Each teen completed a competitive and thorough interview process, and comprises a diverse group who are looking forward to becoming Homer’s highly trained PHAT team.
Family Planning Director Michelle Waneka said the evidence-based curriculum chosen by the state is proving effective at the reducing the risk of HIV, STDs and teen pregnancy.
It does so by offering a balance of abstinence education and comprehensive sexuality education, including communication and refusal skills, medically accurate information about sexual health, role plays and interactive activities. Youth are taught to act responsibly when faced with risky situations and to be proud of their decisions, empowering both peer educators and the participants.
The Homer PHAT team will be implementing the program to small groups of youth ages 13-19, but not in traditional schools, and instead in collaboration with community organizations which currently serve young people.
The program will also be implemented at The R.E.C. Room, and interested participants or parents can call KBFPC to speak to a peer educator or coordinator during weekdays or weekday evenings about the program. The grant also provides revenue to use as incentives for participating youth, in the form of gift cards, gift certificates, and other desired commodities for use by teens. Being a three year grant, there will likely be more opportunities in the future for interested youth to join the PHAT staff or participate in the training.
Stay tuned for more information to come as this new program is put in place. We wish them well.
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