PITTSFIELD — The latest round of efforts to reduce teen pregnancy in Berkshire County is about meeting teens where they're at.
Throughout this academic semester, members of Berkshire United Way's "Face the Facts" coalition teamed up with seniors in Marcie Simonds' Health Tech III class at Taconic High School to create a YouTube video series, "Berkshire Myth Busters."
"YouTube is a good place for a campaign because a lot of people our age use it," senior Karli Manship said.
She helped to write and direct the series that depicts her and her classmates in casual social settings — in the locker room and hanging out a friend's house — talking about what they know and don't know about sex, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and general reproductive health.
So far, the teens have produced three ads, each less than a minute in length, with a fourth YouTube video due out this month. In each segment, the students talk among themselves about a sexual health topic and what they've heard about it, then an advocate from Tapestry Health — which provides reproductive health and family planning services among other public health services — appears at the end of the video to weigh perceptions versus facts regarding the topic.
Berkshire United Way Coordinator of Youth Development Nataly Garzon said that while the overall Berkshire County teen birth rate has declined 55 percent between 2009 and 2014, from 27.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19, to 12.4 births, there's still a long way to go. The Face the Facts coalition would like to see another 50 percent reduction in these rates by the year 2020.
According to a 2015 self-reported study of Berkshire County students in Grades 8, 12 and 12, 65.5 percent of students say they've had sexual intercourse by their senior year, and 7.7 percent, or 164 female students in this cohort, said they have had a positive pregnancy test.
Simonds said the ad series was the perfect community service project for her students to be involved in because she feels it brings light to a health issue that's relevant to the teens' studies and social lives, while using popular media platforms.
"To me as a teacher, there's a double benefit of the students getting good info out to kids who need it, and the girls got to do a fun project," Simonds said. "I know I learned a lot from it."
So far, between posts on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, the campaign has had more than 117,000 views and counting.
Participating students included Taconic seniors Marisela Pascual-Polanco, David Benle, Karli Manship, Hannah Mitchell, Micky Hornyak, Breanda Sayers, Noelle Hunter; Miss Hall's School juniors Rachel Freedman and Hayden Gillooly, community health educator Caitlin Hugel, and research associate Stephanie Steele-Wren of Springfield College.
"I've already had so many people come up to me saying, "Aren't you in that video?" It's pretty cool," Hornyak said.
She and her classmates said the issues the videos address aren't typically covered in health class or elsewhere in school, even though they were among the top topics that came up when the students conducted a survey among various classes in the school.
The top five reproductive myths, based on the survey results are:
• Getting an STI will ruin your life.
• Women can't get pregnant during their period or if the man uses the pull-out method.
• Some males are just too big for condoms and no size fits them.
• An intrauterine device (IUD) for women is extremely painful and a risky form of birth control.
• The birth control pill is always effective immediately after you begin taking it.
In addition to the "Berkshire Myth Busters," series, the Berkshire United Way "Face the Facts" initiative is currently running a series of posters; Pandora online radio station ads in English and Spanish; and is partnering with the Pittsfield Public Schools to develop and teach a more comprehensive sex education and sexual health curriculum in collaboration with the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center and Elizabeth Freeman Center.
Back in May, the Face the Facts coalition hosted a Youth Art Expo titled, "Nine months from now, the only thing I am expecting is to be more ..." at the Whitney Center for the Arts in Pittsfield. The expo, which was also part of Pittsfield's First Fridays Arts Walk, included art works from students from Lenox, Lee, Wahconah, Miss Hall's, Taconic and Monument Mountain high schools. The works reflected the where the youths hope to be nine months from now based on their passions and dreams versus becoming a teen parent.
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.
Face the facts ...
Increase access to reproductive health services by:
• Expanding Tapestry Health into Southern Berkshire County
• Having Tapestry information tables at schools
• Having one-on-one meetings with health care providers to promote access
Develop and implement a reproductive health curriculum by:
• Training advocates to teach the "Get Real" reproductive health curriculum
• Offering the curriculum to every school in the county
Implement a two-generation approach to education by:
• Hosting "Let's Be Honest" workshops for students and parents
• Offering programs in English and Spanish
Expand marketing campaigns by:
• Continuing to run local radio, Pandora online radio ads, and YouTube videos
• Creating and distributing a map of Tapestry Health clinics
• Expanding outreach and materials to the local Latino population
For more information, contact Nataly Garzon, coordinator of Positive Youth Development for Berkshire United Way, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-442–6948, ext. 15.