August 26, 2009 – Surrounded by appointees to the Mayor’s Springfield Adolescent Sexual Health Advisory Board, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, School Superintendent Dr. Alan J. Ingram and the City’s Director of Health and Human Services Helen Caulton-Harris announced new curriculum recommendations for the Springfield Public Schools.
In a move to address the unacceptably high rate of teenage pregnancies and spread of sexually transmitted infections among Springfield youth, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno had asked Springfield Public Schools earlier this year to convene a Springfield Adolescent Sexual Health Advisory Board. The board will recommend a new health education curriculum for middle and high school students to the School Committee during a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, August 27, 2009, at 6:30 p.m., at City Hall.
The proposed program is a comprehensive health curriculum that focuses on the science of reproduction. The course includes a parent component that provides structured opportunities for students to discuss classroom lessons with parents or guardians. If approved by the School Committee on Thursday night, the curriculum will be taught beginning this school year.
“The work of this board is a critical first step in the development of a sustainable and comprehensive city-wide response to the high teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates that disproportionately impact Springfield youth,” said Sarno. “I’m very appreciative of the time commitment made by each of the advisory board members and their input and involvement for such a serious issue facing our community,” added Sarno.
The work began in February 2009 when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded the School Department with a grant to select a sexual health education curriculum based on the city’s high incidence rate. Mayor Sarno worked with Dr. Ingram and appointed the city’s Health and Human Services Director Helen Caulton-Harris, Puerto Rican Cultural Center Executive Director Juan Gerena, SPS Assistant Superintendent for Academics Ann Southworth, Ed.D, and Dr. Sarah Perez McAdoo of Baystate Medical Center, who is also chairperson of the Youth Empowerment Adolescent Health Network, as chairpersons of the advisory board. Other appointees included parents: Yoana Vega-Mata, Tabatha Rivera-Eddington, Yajaira Garay, Donald Jernigan and Hector Toledo; and student Steven Villanueva. SPS Physical Education, Health and Family and Consumer Science Department Director Coleen Walsh, and Patricia St. Laurent, District-Wide Resource Teacher of Physical Education, Health, and Family and Consumer Sciences for the Springfield Public Schools assisted with the coordinated community effort to address the issue.
The advisory board met weekly for six months to discuss best practices for building community capacity, engaging parents, teens and policymakers in preventing unintended teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The board also worked with the Massachusetts Alliance for Teen Pregnancy Prevention and engaged teachers in the curriculum evaluation process.
Dr. Ingram commended the work of the advisory board, noting its comprehensive approach to the citywide issue. “This is an example of an effective parent and community partnership that has taken a very important step in not only helping our students to become responsible citizens, but also greater achievers, because healthy kids are better students,” said Ingram.
Health and Human Services Director Helen Caulton-Harris stated “the Board worked diligently and cooperatively to come up with solid curriculum recommendations for the Springfield Public Schools.” “The advisory board met every week for the last six months and undertook a tremendous task and did an excellent job,” stated Caulton-Harris. Caulton-Harris also extended her appreciation for the time commitment made by each advisory board member.
Overall, the teen birth rate in Springfield is more than three times higher than the state average and more than twice as much as the national average.