A nonprofit in Chapel Hill is working to improve sex education for local high school students.
The Compass Center for Women and Families provides vocational and financial education, crisis and domestic violence prevention programs, legal resource support, and youth health programs.
The center currently offers two school-based youth empowerment programs at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – one of which is Teens Climb High. Teens Climb High provides medically correct and comprehensive sexual health education to 9th grade students.
While schools in North Carolina must teach sex education, the curriculum does not have to be comprehensive. Current standards do not require educators to teach consent or sexual orientation.
Leslie Massicotte is a sex educator and program coordinator for the Compass Center’s Teens Climb High program. She said the Compass Center is working closely with CHCCS health educators to provide full sex education in two weeks.
“I know that sometimes – health teachers – the training they receive in sex education is different,” said Massicotte. “We found in this school district that our health teachers were more than willing to ask the Compass Center to provide this content. We do all of this in line with their health program that they already have in their classrooms. “
CHCCS health teachers currently follow a number of government standards called “healthy living”. As part of the healthy living curriculum, teachers must include instruction on abstinence, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV. The curriculum must also teach that faithful, monogamous, and heterosexual marriage is the best lifelong means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
Massicotte said that not only is this current curriculum out of date, but there are also no standards regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. To fill these gaps, the Compass Center is working to mainstream the inclusion of LGBTQ terms, topics, and concerns into the overall educational program.
“What it looks like in schools is that we – me and my colleagues through the Compass Center – were able to change our language to make sure we were speaking in gender neutral and mother tongue,” said Massicotte. “At the beginning of each class, we give students the opportunity to make a name for themselves, and they can also use their pronouns if they are interested.”
The current material used by the Compass Center in its Teens Climb High program is called “Making Proud Choices” (1998). While her funder – the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative – requires the Compass Center to use materials from the ’90s, Massicotte said they do their best to continue to be inclusive while sticking to the core curriculum dated standards.
“We’re basically trying to make sure we’re up to standards and that we’re not marginalizing any of our LGBTQ students,” said Massicotte.
According to SIECUS, a national organization that advocates the right to accurate and comprehensive information about sexuality, only 58 percent of North Carolina high schools taught students a required health course about sexual orientation or gender identity.
In addition, only 40 percent of state secondary schools provided students with curricula that included information about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy prevention that was relevant to LGBTQ adolescents.
“I would love if the standards could include our LGBTQ students more, but I think it will be some time before a state like North Carolina changes its standards,” said Massicotte. “We just have to see. We do what we can, within the standards we have. “
Main photo via SIECUS.
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