Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not Just Another Statistic

When I was a Junior at Clemson (Go Tigers!), I got the phone call that I would never expect to get. It was my mom in tears, “Sarah, your sister is pregnant,” she said. A thousand thoughts rushed into my head all at once and from that moment on, my family was never the same again.

Let’s take a few steps back. My mother and step-father had recently divorced, my boyfriend was thousands of miles away, in Iraq, and I was just trying to maintain a decent grade point average while dealing with social pressures at college and desperately missing home. My sister and I are two years apart. I was always the over-achiever and she was always able to live life by “the seat of her pants.” I’ve always admired her free-spirit and ability to live spontaneously, never considering future implications. It was ironic that the personality traits that I admired in my sister were the same factors that put her at risk for an unintended pregnancy.

My sister was 18 years old, fresh out of high school and experiencing the first few months of being a freshman in college when she found out that she was pregnant. I never thought that our family would be “that” family. I never considered how a teen pregnancy would impact my family. I always thought that my sister and I would watch each other graduate from college, get married and have kids together in that order. Parts of me felt embarrassed and other parts of me felt resentful. I kept thinking “how could this happen?” and I realized that my sister and I had always been college prepped but never prepped for the world of hormones and sexual behaviors.

My parents prepared us for college since day one. I was wearing a Clemson ‘onesie’ when I was just a few weeks old. The standard in my family was to graduate college, get a great job, get married and then have kids. We never even knew that sometimes it doesn’t always happen in that order. My mom always made sure I was prepared for school, enrolling me in all the SAT prep courses, encouraging me to take the AP classes, and always supporting me academically. One thing was certain; school was priority in our home. It never dawned on my parents that if we made risky sexual decisions, those academic dreams would be put on hold or would cease to exist altogether. Our sexual education occurred when I was in the 8th grade, we were eating dinner at the kitchen table when my sister and I started giggling at the neighbor’s cat getting a little too fresh with our precious kitty, Sassy. We asked my mom what they were doing and my mother replied “they are being vulgar and having sex. That is only for adults…and cats”. And that was it. That was my sexual education.

So why is it that parents prepare and encourage their children to grow up with dreams of achieving academic success while never considering that if a teen puts themselves at risk for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, that those dreams may never be achieved? If parents spent as much time preparing their teens for safe sexual practices as they do for the SAT, don’t you think that teens would be more prepared to take care of their sexual health? Maybe instead of SAT courses, we should implement sex education courses that prepare our young adults for a world of sexual behaviors and unintended outcomes.

Today, four years after I received that phone call, I look at my sister and I still see a teen mother; a mother that had to abruptly stop being a child to raise a child of her own. Every time I see a statistic on another teen pregnancy; I see my sister’s young face, and that face is what motivates me to help other young people prevent unintended pregnancies.

by: Sarah Huggins-Kershner, Research and Evaluation Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TV 101: Primetime Education

This week marked the official start of autumn; however the signs of its inevitable approach and the end of summer have been around for weeks. Kids are back in school, weekends are now comprised of college football and tailgating, and the temperature seems to finally be cooling off. Another sure sign of fall’s encroachment are the season premieres of our favorite shows. As a self-proclaimed TV junkie, I must admit I am quite excited for the return of Biggest Loser (NBC) and Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), but from a professional standpoint, season premieres are a great time to incorporate those “teachable moments” we always talk about.

As research for this entry, I decided to tune into a few episodes of the CW’s 90210. For those of you who are unaware, the show is a revamp of the early 90’s hit series. Set in Beverly Hills, the characters in the show are faced with the same problems that are targeting our current youth. In just two episodes, the show has addressed such topics as alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, sexting and even teen pregnancy, some of the very same issues taking place in the hallways of South Carolina’s middle and high schools at this very moment.

So what does this mean? Whether it’s 90201 or another show, sit down and watch an episode or two with your kids and look for those teachable moments. By watching their favorite show with them, you are entering into their world, and you may find they have let down their walls and are a little more receptive to engaging in an open and honest conversation with you. Ask them how they feel about the issues being portrayed on TV, what decisions they might have made and whether or not they have any questions. Most importantly, remember that conversations regarding adolescent sexual health and risky behaviors should be ongoing.  National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported (With One Voice, Spring 2009) that teens continue to say that parental/guardian influence still has the greatest impact on their decisions regarding sex. Make your voice heard and continue to look for those teachable moments, as teens really are listening to what you have to say even if they appear to be disengaged.

by: Jessica Cooper, Graduate Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's Be Incredible

Hello all you blog readers out there! Please let me preface the following commentary by warning you that my style is generally to present an issue, back it up with evidence from peer-reviewed journals, to follow-up with some good old-fashioned playing devil’s advocate, and then summarize with a thought-provoking question (or six). That style permeates in some fashion in today’s blog, but less this time because this is more of an opinion piece based solely on my own experiences. As such, please take what you will, believe what you like, and argue with/dismiss what you think may be ludicrous. I promise that I’m not here to convince you of anything; my purpose is simply to give you food for thought.

Today’s topic is Professional Development. I have no problem being transparent that writing about this topic given my current role at the Campaign may bring up shameless plugs for the trainings we offer in house and onsite. That being said, there is a much deeper issue here than promoting the Campaign’s original purpose. When I say the words “professional development”, what comes to mind? Your annual review where your supervisor encourages you to take advantage of “professional development” opportunities? Those emails/notices promoting “professional development” opportunities that you are SO interested in, but can never seem to find the time in your ridiculously hectic schedule to actually attend? Or, maybe you think of all those things that you want to learn more about, but you haven’t the slightest on where to find the information/training/coaching YOU need based on your own individual learning style and/or, and perhaps more importantly, based at a level that complements your repertoire of knowledge rather than repeating what you already know?

If any of those thoughts have at least crossed your mind, let me congratulate you on being ahead of the game. In other words, at least you are THINKING about the benefits and the absolute necessity of professional development, if only to mark off that box on your annual review. The solution to those thoughts is relatively simple:

1. Make a list of what it is that you WANT to learn more about (read: what are you motivated to learn more about) and make a list of what you NEED to learn more about (read: what must you learn in order to continuously engage in best practices);

2. USE the resources you have available to you at your fingertips (read: Campaign trainings, the brand new Online Learning Center that the Campaign will be launching soon, professionals at your place of employment who have experience in whatever information you are seeking as well as professionals at other related partner organizations like the Campaign, and the ABUNDANCE of information available to you FOR FREE on the web/at your local library);

3. Hold yourself accountable by setting deadlines for acquiring your new knowledge/skills – try post-its on your bathroom mirror at home, notes jotted to yourself in your planner, and/or tell somebody whose opinion you hold in high regard who can remind you to stay on target what it is that you are hoping to accomplish.

What is challenging is when none of those thoughts cross our minds when we hear the words “professional development”. Rather, if the idea of professional development is just that – an idea or an ideal – then we truly have a problem. We cannot operate under the premise that simply graduating from a great college and/or graduate program is enough to set us up for being lifelong experts at what we do. What may be even more tempting, and perhaps more realistic, is feeling that way after we have attained a level in our chosen profession where others refer to us as “experts” because of the ongoing in-the-field experiences we have had. The reality is that expertise is relative and fluid – a goal that isn’t measurable because there is ALWAYS something more that we can learn, a skill we can improve upon, a concept we can master simply because the knowledge available to us is always changing. Accepting, no embracing, that fact leaves us with no choice but to proactively and deliberately seek out professional development or be left behind in a mindset of passivity and apathy. In other words, being “good enough” is not good enough. We have to WANT to be incredible…and I don’t use that word lightly.

As such, the question I leave with you to ponder is as follows: what have you done with your professional development lately? The encouragement I hope you consider is that we can all make our strengths stronger and choose to challenge our weaknesses head on rather than burying them under the proverbial mounds of paperwork we consider more manageable. Believe me, you will feel more confident in yourself and your office teammates will respect you more for trying. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes. In return, I’ll keep you posted on my end as my own method of accountability.Let's Be Incredible

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation

This week a report was released by the National Women's Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on the alarming rates of Latinas dropping out of high school. According to the report, 41% of Latinas do not graduate from high school with their class in four years, if they graduate at all.

While there are many factors associated with the dropouts, the high teen pregnancy rate for Latinas — the highest of any ethnic group — is a primary barrier. In fact, almost half of Latinas who drop out of high school do so because of pregnancy and parenting responsibilities.

So what can be done?

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy started a Latino Initiative to address this pressing issue. To find out more, visit The National Campaign. Here you will find a wealth of resources, media appearances, and updates.

The National Campaign has taken the lead when addressing this issue, but I believe there is something we all can do. The first step is to become informed and to be aware of the unique hurdles Latinos are facing. The second step is to share the information you learn with others, especially educators and policymakers who are making important decisions. And finally, get involved when possible. Invest in the future of Latino children. Connect Latinas with role models and engage them in goal setting. Mentor a Latina to ensure they are prepared for post-secondary education. Teach your children to live in environments that are culturally inclusive and free of race, ethnicity, and gender discrimination. Be vocal that all South Carolina students are receiving comprehensive, sex education messages.

There is a role we all can play. What is yours?

by: Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Talk About Data

One of the greatest challenges of working in the field of teen pregnancy prevention is the amount of controversy the topic can generate. On one hand, it is great to have passionate, candid, and thoughtful conversations about the best way to protect young people from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. On the other, the noise from the debate can drown out some important things.

Solid research and evaluation lends clarity to the debate about the best way to prevent teen pregnancy. As formidable as this issue is, we are fortunate to have very robust data that can guide how we help our young people. Instead of a conversation about morals or judgment, data lets us talk about which programs can be most effective and the youth at highest risk of pregnancy.

One of the great things data allows us to do is get perspective by taking a step back to see where we came from and to plan for where want to go. Taking a big step back may mean looking at national statistics and trends on teen birth rates; the most recent year’s data indicates that rates are climbing ( When we are asked why, a possible explanation may be found in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which shows that condom and birth control pill use by sexually active high school students in South Carolina declined for the first time ever (YRBS 2008).

Or taking a step back may mean looking at national or state or county data that recently came out from Kids Count ( to see how South Carolina or your community is faring. While this data includes teen pregnancy, it also covers a host of topics that we know are related to teen pregnancy, such as school readiness, poverty, and infant health outcomes. While no one statistic can give you all the answers, keeping up with a variety of indicators can help to put the work we do into perspective. For example, in 2008, a larger proportion of children started school ready for first grade than in years past (Kids Count 2009). However, at the same time a larger proportion of 3rd graders tested below the state standards in math (Kids Count 2009).

As a social worker, I am sometimes surprised that I ended up in the “math department” and spend much of my day working with numbers and thinking about how to measure things! But, the story behind the numbers is what is truly exciting about this kind of work. Numbers will never give you all the information we need, but it helps us to think about the right questions to ask and ways to move forward. It can also be a solid reason to support the important work of local organizations. If there are questions you have about how to find data or use the information that you have, our department would love to hear from you. Sometimes data can be a program’s best advocacy tool and we would be happy to help if we can.

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign
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