Nashville, Tenn. — Centerstone, Middle Tennessee’s leading provider of behavioral health services, has received a three-year grant of $781,000 per year from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement an abstinence-based education program for middle and high school students in at least 10 rural Middle Tennessee counties.
Students in school districts in Coffee, Dickson, Franklin, Giles, Houston, Humphreys, Lawrence, Stewart, Wayne and other counties to be announced will receive instruction through the Rural Abstinence Program (RAP), which stresses the following three concepts:
- Avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Developing healthy non-sexual relationships
- Encouraging emotional and physical health through abstinence
Students in grades 7 through 12 will take part in the program during their science and health classes. The RAP curriculum for middle school students is called Practicing Abstinence through Communications Training (PACT) and is designed to be appropriate for younger adolescents. The high school curriculum, entitled Choosing the Best, encourages adolescents to make responsible choices and educates them about the benefits of abstaining from sex until marriage.
“This generous grant will allow Centerstone to offer an appropriate sexual education program by providing the resources and staff that currently are lacking in Middle Tennessee’s rural communities,” said John Page, senior vice president for child, adolescent and family services. “With RAP, we hope to help these communities counter the proportionately higher incidents of premarital births, sexually-transmitted diseases and abortions, and ultimately enhance the quality of life for these communities.”
Simultaneously, Centerstone will work to raise awareness throughout these rural communities about the dangers of STDs and the importance of encouraging youth to choose abstinence. This program will include working with parents of teens, developing an advisory board of adults and teens to determine the curriculum’s effectiveness and distributing educational materials.
In the 10 counties where RAP will be implemented, 32.6 percent of live births in 2002 occurred out-of-wedlock. Several of the counties’ rates compare unfavorably with the state and national averages for out-of-wedlock births. The teen pregnancy rate of 64.9 percent in 2001 drastically exceeded the nation’s declining rate of 45.9 percent. Additionally, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, about 15 percent of Tennessee’s 15,000 induced abortions in 2001 were performed in rural communities. These areas also reported substantial increases in STD rates between 2001 and 2002.
RAP was created because recent surveys suggest that teens are more receptive to abstinence-based education than birth control strategies. Surveys conducted in 2000 by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy indicate that 93 percent of youth, ages 12 to 17, thought society should promote a strong abstinence-until-marriage message. America’s Health Network also reports that 98 percent of sexually active teens surveyed in 1996 regretted sexual involvement at an early age. Centerstone will evaluate RAP’s success in Middle Tennessee in order to contribute to the body of research regarding teenage sexual abstinence.