BRISTOL — How do you get a group of teens to discuss and learn about the socially taboo and awkward topic of sex?
Give them $100.
That’s the strategy Jim Lockridge, director of The Hub teen center, and Ryan Krushenick, program coordinator at the Bristol center, are taking to engage young adults in a federally funded sex education program. To encourage local teens to participate in the course, which begins Monday, May 14, at The Hub, Lockridge and Krushenick are earmarking for participants one-third of the $300-per-person funding provided by the feds.
When questioned about giving teens money for their completion of the program, Krushenick was unwavering in his belief that the $100 will be enough incentive to effectively bring the issue of teen sex risks into the open and drive youngsters to learn about them.
“It’s not a bribe — it’s an incentive,” he said. “In teen life there’s a clandestine element to sexual activity. Parents and society often don’t want to think or talk about teens having sex, and this $100 is meant to tear down the clandestine nature of teen sex.”
Vermont Department of Health employee Ilisa Stalberg is the state administrator for the program, called the Personal Responsibility Education Program or PREP. She said that PREP programs across the U.S. are funded by the Affordable Care Act and are using financial and material rewards to encourage teen participation.
“We know that lots of other programs nationally are also implementing these kinds of incentives,” she said. “They’ve shown to be very effective to get kids into the program and complete the program.”
Lockridge and Krushenick applied for funding to run a PREP program when they saw that risky sexual behavior was on the rise in the state’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey for Addison County — the findings were reported in the Independent last Nov. 14. The biennial survey found that, of the 1,271 county high school students who participated:
• 39 percent have had sexual intercourse, up from 36 percent in 1999 and 34 percent in 2005.
• 30 percent have had intercourse in the past three months, up from 27 percent in 1999 and 25 percent in 2005.
• 40 percent did not use condoms the last time they had intercourse, up from 35 percent in 1999, 27 percent in 2007 and 33 percent in 2009.
The Hub — one of four organizations across the state to receive funding for this education program — seeks to reduce those numbers, Krushenick said.
He and Lockridge recently finished Department of Health training to effectively carry out the program’s curriculum. Throughout the four-week course, they said, students will learn about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection prevention methods, using a combination of abstinence and contraception.
“Abstinence is the most successful form of safe sex,” said Krushenick. “But we’re also going to cover other forms of safe sex, from standard condoms to female condoms to birth control. And we’re going to cover all the risks of not having safe sex and the risks that can still exist while having safe sex.”
Teens enrolled in the program will learn how to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to deal with uncomfortable situations, said Krushenick.
“We’re teaching scenario awareness and scenario control … instead of only teaching these kids, ‘Just say no,’ or, ‘Just do this,’ and then have it fall to the backburner,” he said. “The kids will be engaging in role playing — not sexual — but learning how to feel confident saying no or when the right time might be. And, if it comes up, what options might exist for having safe sex. If you give a kid a cucumber and a condom, they’re going to break four before they get it right. It’ll help people know they’re totally competent in handling sexual scenarios.”
To sign up for the course, young people can stop by The Hub after school. But be warned, parents must provide consent.
“Parents have to know that their kids are enrolled,” said Krushenick. “The parents will be aware, and that’s mandatory.”
One thing teens in the course won’t have to worry about is a month full of horror stories.
“When I took sex-ed in high school, it was very much based on shock value and worst-case scenarios,” said Krushenick. “It scared some kids away from sex, if it worked.”
The goal, he said, is to educate and empower teens.
“There will be no scare tactics here,” he said.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at firstname.lastname@example.org.