The Birds and the Bees: Sex Education in Arkansas

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(KARK) The way kids are taught about the birds and the bees has evolved over the years but what hasn’t changed is how uncomfortable it can be–and that can be costly.

Arkansas tops the list when it comes to teenage girls giving birth, even as the national average is down. 

Inside Coach Isaac Dulaney’s health class at Robinson High School, the Hope High School grad takes a different approach than what he recalls from his days in the desk.

“I can remember we had a topic of sex education but it was never in-depth,” he said.

It’s straight talk  that follows state standards. No metaphors or innuendo. No slang lingo or street terms. It’s science-based.

“Some of the kids I teach at 14-15 years old are already experiencing sexual intercourse,” he added.

And because of that he covers abstinence and contraceptives, highlighting the rewards of the first and the risks of the second.

“Sexual intercourse is an adult act with adult consequences. If you’re not ready for those, you don’t participate in the action,” Coach Dulaney told his class.

He hopes it gives kids a complete picture of what deciding to have sex could have in store for them.

“You have educated this young person enough to make the decision to not do it  not trying to scare them out of it or shame them out of it .”

The Arkansas Department of Education sets standards for health and development education for grades K through twelve but state law doesn’t require stand alone sexuality education.

“We don’t really have requirements as far as sex education goes,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Smith.

If it is taught, the law requires an emphasis on abstinence.

“It was just kind of showing you all the boogey monsters,” said Spencer Sullivan, UALR student , when asked about his sex education at Bryant High School.

Arkansas’s teen pregnancies are highest among 17-19-year-olds or college aged students.

“I feel like there was more knowledge because they kind of went through everything,” said Hall High School Graduate Jocelynne Dotson.

“We did have in it junior high,” said UALR student and Benton grad Kaylen Presnall. “We were briefed with an abstinence program.”

While the Department of Education sets those statewide standards, how the curriculum is taught, is a decision that’s made right here at the local school district level.

Of the 64 school districts we reached out to, 18 responded with how their district approaches sex education. 2 had a stand alone course. All said some form of sex education was covered in health class. 12 included instruction on contraceptives.

“I don’t even know how pregnancy works, not even today,” said Sullivan.

When we surveyed recent high school grads, they all had a variety of opinions of how informative their sex education classes were.

“It’s like they’ll touch on protection, but it’s mostly abstinence,” said Torrance Bell, Hall graduate.

But all of them agreed their parents helped fill in the blanks by supporting an open dialogue with them. While the teen birth rate in Arkansas has declined over the past two decades, we’re still playing catch up — at 60 percent higher than the national average.

Coach Dulaney  is attempting to do his part to keep kids from making the decision to grow up to soon. At the very least he hopes the education they get inside the classroom makes them better prepared for the choices they’ll face when they leave it.

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