Pittsfield School Committee agrees to revamp sex ed program


PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee is out to revamp the sex education program, which has come under fire for being inadequate, incomplete and largely irrelevant, according to students.

The curriculum subcommittee will review the program after an appeal from advocates to prevent teen pregnancy, a state representative and two Taconic High School students.

At a recent school committee meeting, Taconic students Jazmyn Thomas and Angela O'Neil took part in a presentation on efforts to reduce teen pregnancy and improve sex education.

"This has to be taught in a way that teens can take seriously," Thomas told committee members.

Sexual activity is "an important topic our friends and ourselves have to deal with throughout our high school careers," she said.

The students said they hoped by speaking out it would encourage better education and programming.

Thomas said education should include honest discussions, including some among all-female groups, as well as more detailed information about contraception options and sources of health care information -- including abortion and Plan B pills.

"And we need to learn how to talk about sex with our partners," Thomas told committee members.

"Although I know it's hard to accept that our youth are sexually active," O'Neil said, "it is a reality of our generation."

She said all issues in sex education should be part of the curriculum, and allowing high schoolers to talk to middle school students about the issues should be considered. The students said they know peers who have had a child or are thinking about getting pregnant, adding that teens should be made aware of the long-term, difficult commitment required to raise a child.

Committee members Katherine Yon and Kathleen Amuso expressed support for an overhaul of the city's programs and for a review by the curriculum committee, which Yon heads.

"I think the curriculum is outdated," Amuso said this week. "And I would like to take a look at what Berkshire United Way" -- through its Face the Facts: Reduce Teen Pregnancy coalition -- "can bring to our program."

Kristine Hazzard, the United Way president, told committee members about the Face the Facts anti-teen pregnancy program, described research data on the issue in the county and offered help in revamping the education programs.

"We are willing to help with the cost and training," she added.

Yon said she plans to hold a subcommittee meeting on the topic with administrators, counselors, United Way officials and others. The statistics on teen pregnancy in the county "are horrifying," she said.

Yon added that she works part time at the Reconnect Center in the city and sees firsthand the problems teen mothers face.

"This is a great opportunity to make a difference," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

She said the United Way has stepped up to provide some funding to replace declining funding from state and federal sources for evidence-based educational efforts shown to be effective.

Hazzard noted statistics that have shown the county with a much higher rate of births to teen mothers than in the state. It now shows that 34 per 1,000 births here are to a teen mother, compared to 17 per 1,000 for the state.

Through its Prevention Needs Assessment surveys and focus group research, Hazzard said United Way found 70 percent of teens are sexually active and 20 percent did not use contraception or were inconsistent in using it.

Hazzard stressed that a collaborative effort involving the schools, church and other groups and parents -- and one offering a number of sources of information and educational approaches for teens -- has been shown the most effective in reducing pregnancies.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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