Sexual Health Initiative for Transformation

 

The Michigan Department of Education is partnering with 14 Michigan school districts on a five-year initiative to improve adolescent health through delivery of exemplary sexual health education, improved access to sexual health services, and establishment of safe and supportive environments for students and staff.  The emphasis of the work is on secondary schools and students in grades 6-12. 

The initiative is funded through Cooperative Agreement Number U87/PS004147-03 under Program Announcement Number PS13-1308.

This initiative is designed to build the capacity of Michigan school districts to reduce HIV, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and teen pregnancy rates, with a focus on populations that are disproportionately affected.  Program activities are also expected to reduce chronic absenteeism and dropout rates, while improving school connectedness and academic achievement.  The intent is to develop and implement sustainable efforts that will continue beyond the duration of the cooperative agreement.

There are four making components of this initiative:

Exemplary Sexual Health Education (ESHE)

The overall goal of ESHE is to equip students with the knowledge and skills to develop healthy relationships and to avoid sexual behaviors that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, and unintended pregnancy.  ESHE is a systematic, evidence-informed approach to sexual health education that includes the use of grade-specific, evidence-based interventions, but also emphasizes sequential learning across elementary, middle, and high school grade levels.  It provides adolescents the essential knowledge and critical skills needed to avoid HIV infection, other STIs, and unintended pregnancy.  ESHE is delivered by well-qualified and trained teachers who use strategies that are relevant and engaging, and it consists of elements that are medically accurate, developmentally and culturally appropriate, and consistent with the scientific research on effective sexual health education.

Facilitate Access to Sexual Health Services (SHS)

Students need not only the knowledge and skills but also access to sexual health services in order to avoid HIV, other STIs, or unintended pregnancy.  Schools have a critical role to play in facilitating delivery of such preventive services, by either providing onsite services through school-based health centers or connecting students to adolescent-friendly, community-based agencies, including school-linked health centers.  Key adolescent health services include counseling and testing for HIV, other STIs, and pregnancy, STI treatment, referral for and/or provision of contraception, and HPV vaccinations.  All services must be provided in accordance with the Michigan statutes that prohibit the dispensing of a family planning drug or device in a school (§380.1507, 388.1766).

Safe and Supportive Environments for All Students and Staff (SSE)

Although the main purpose of school is to help students develop academically, the school environment influences students’ social, emotional, and ethical development, as well as their physical and mental health and safety.  Promoting and providing a learning environment in which all students and staff can expect to feel safe and supported is an essential function of schools.  Safe and supportive school environments are associated with improved educational and health outcomes, including reduced risks for HIV, other STIs, and pregnancy for all students.  These environments are especially important for those students at disproportionate risk for HIV and other STIs, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) youth, who often experience increased victimization.

The school environment is shaped by district and school policies and practices, school structure and decision-making processes, and classroom factors, such as teachers’ classroom management methods, curricular tasks, and peer-peer/teacher-student relationships.

Several approaches to promoting a safe and supportive school environment include:

a) enhancing safety by preventing bullying and sexual harassment;

b) promoting school connectedness; and

c) promoting parent engagement.

Youth at Disproportionate Risk (YDR)

Safe and supportive school environments are associated with improved educational and health outcomes, including reduced risks for HIV, other STIs, and pregnancy for all students.  These environments are especially important for those students at disproportionate risk for HIV and other STIs, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.  LGBTQ youth often face harassment, abuse, and violence from classmates in school settings, which, in turn, can result in serious problems, such as substance abuse, HIV, and suicide, as well as school failure and dropout. 

In Michigan, 8.7% of students identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and/or have engaged in same sex sexual behavior.  The students are:

  • 3.0X more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (18% versus 6%).

  • 2.7X more likely to not go to school because they felt unsafe (16% versus 6%); and

  • 4.6X more likely than other students to actually attempt suicide (32% versus 7%).

    (Source: 2013 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey)

Many educators and administrators in school districts throughout Michigan have requested information and technical assistance to help them create school environments that are physically and emotionally safe for all students, including sexual minority students (i.e., gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning).

The Michigan Department of Education has partnered with key stakeholders to develop and implement professional development and technical assistance focusing on creating safe schools for all students, including sexual minority youth.  

Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth