Middle school students participate in abstinence program

Published 5:17 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The 4-H TGIF (Teens Getting Involved for the Future) program is an abstinence education program brought to the Marengo County public schools through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

The program is funded by the Abstinence Education Program of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

There were three different programs were used: one for all sixth graders in the county, one for a small group of seventh graders and another for a select group of eighth graders.

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Media Madness is an abstinence-based program taught to eighth graders by Marengo County Extension agent assistant, Tammy Glass. It teaches young teens to recognize how much influence the media has over their thoughts and ideas about sexual behavior.

Six sessions are taught on topics ranging from advertising to reality television. The students learn that the media’s goal is to make money, not to teach teens values and morals.

Relationship Smarts Plus is an abstinence-based program for seventh graders, also taught by Glass.

It is used to help students learn about building healthy relationships with their peers and setting boundaries in their future dating relationships.

Managing Pressures before Marriage is a peer-led program taught to sixth graders which addresses the struggles of becoming a teenager, dealing with peer pressures, learning assertiveness skills and understanding the benefits of postponing sexual involvement until marriage. Every sixth grader in Marengo County was given the opportunity to participate in this program. Teen Leaders, trained by Alabama Extension System personnel, present each of the sessions to their younger peers.

The decision to use Teen Leaders rather than adults to reach the younger students was an important one. Adolescents are often more open to messages, ideas and behaviors from their peers. The Teen Leaders are also effective role models, demonstrating success without engaging in the targeted negative behavior.

Junior and senior students from each high school applied for Teen Leader positions and a total of 37 were chosen county-wide. Each student earned up to 30 hours of community service for the personal time they invested in training, preparation and presentation. They participated in training sessions that taught them the seriousness of the consequences of early sexual behavior and received instruction on how to be effective presenters of that information to their young peers.

There are many benefits to the Teen Leaders themselves. These students gained presentation and leadership skills, which aided in building their confidence and deepened their desire to become involved in their communities. It even assisted some in receiving leadership scholarships from colleges.

This is the second year that Marengo County has been funded to present these programs. Research results in the counties already participating indicate that students who had participated in the 4-H TGIF program as sixth graders were less likely to be sexually active than those who had not.

In Hale County, where this program was initially implemented, births to unmarried teens declined from 13.8 percent to 10.4 percent after the program was implemented.