Teaching Schools to Teach about Sex

“Sex ed is so essential,” says one long-time school administrator working in a rural community in Washington State. “If we want our kids to experience algebra, geometry, and science, we have to get them there first by not having them pregnant.”

Despite her strongly held views, she admits that her school’s sex education program used to consist of nothing more than “a box of tapes that occasionally got passed from school to school.”

That’s where the WISE Initiative has made a difference. Led by the Grove Foundation and funded in partnership by the Packard Foundation, Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, WISE has helped school districts across Washington and in six other states to incorporate comprehensive sex education into their curricula.

In Washington, a 2007 state law required state schools to ensure that their sex ed curricula is medically accurate, age appropriate, and addresses both abstinence and contraceptives, but many schools districts were unable to make needed changes because of lack of funding and sensitivity to sexuality content. This was especially true in the administrator’s small town, a former logging community about an hour’s drive from Seattle.

She had been reviewing her school district’s health classes and realized that their teaching was inadequate. And, she had more than a professional interest in the topic—she knew teen mothers in her community and wanted to be sure the schools were doing a better job of getting comprehensive reproductive health and family planning education to their youth.

The district was introduced to WISE through the state department of education. WISE provided funding and guidance for her district and many others to update their courses, train teachers, empower youth as advocates, engage the broader community, and evaluate their results.

With WISE’s help, the rural Washington district has now implemented a new sex ed program for youth from fifth to ninth grade, getting age appropriate information to them at a critical stage in their development.

These results have been mirrored throughout the state. As summed up by another Washington teacher: “The WISE project has brought the 4 C’s to our sexual health education program – content, consistency, connection and confidence.”

The Washington WISE project, led by the organization Cardea working with the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction, has now worked with 21 Washington State school districts and trained 391 teachers over the past two years. Nationwide, WISE has supported projects in seven states that have collectively provided more than 20,000 students with comprehensive sex education; trained more than 600 professionals to teach the subject; and engaged over 100 young people as advocates.