KERA News By ALEJANDRA MARTINEZ
August 5, 2020
The North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens was awarded more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The group, known as Ntarupt, is teaching Dallas teens about birth control, consent and sexually transmitted diseases.
“Health information is health information. Just because we give you reproductive health information today. We don’t expect you to have sex today,” said Terry Greenberg, Ntarupt’s CEO.
The grant comes as the Texas State Board of Education is considering a new sex education policy for state public schools. For the first time in 23 years, Texas education officials are taking recommendations from organizations like Ntarupt about best practices, including teaching children in pre-K about body autonomy, middle schoolers about birth control and discussing options beyond abstinence.
“Honestly you could go your whole educational career without having a single sex education class,” said 17-year-old Kennedy Wooten, a senior at Duncanville High School.
Currently, Texas doesn’t require schools to give sex education.
“I think it is finally time that people start realizing that teens are active and that teens are out here doing this. And you can not stop them, you just have to prepare them for what is yet to come,” Wooten said.
She’s glad these standards are up for review. Last school year, she and a friend were the winners of a Student Sex Ed Film Contest. Their video listed five points they wished adults would have told them about sex. Thier list included: consent is fun, oral sex is sex and sex comes with emotions.
Wooten wants these conversations to be normalized at schools.
“I’ve had a friend that had a pregnancy scare. I’ve had a couple of classmates that got pregnant. Having a child at such a young age comes with some consequences and I think these schools sex-ed program could have helped them,” Wooten said.
Texas consistently has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country. And the city of Dallas ranks among the highest for teen birth rates in the state. Over the past couple of years, Ntarupt has identified five ZIP codes with the highest teen birth rates in Dallas: 75203, 75212, 75215, 75216 and 75220.
“They [students] get to our class and say, ‘I wish I would have known about this sooner,’ and it’s unfortunate that we continue as a state to have generation after generation of young people who are not knowledgeable about sex and protecting their bodies,” said Veronica Whitehead, Ntarupt’s director of programs.
Whitehead, an Afro-Latina originally from San Antonio, went to public school and said she didn’t receive sex education until she decided to take a health course.
“I remember sitting in that course being upset because I had lived 20 years of my life without knowing how to take care of my body,” Whitehead said.
Now, she’s working directly with teens at Ntarupt. Whitehead has led the development of the nonprofit’s curriculum.
Their sex ed follows three pillars. The first is trauma-informed, which means there’s an understanding that everybody comes with known knowledge of the topic. Whitehead said the organization teaches beyond “just saying no” and provides resources and conversation allowing the students to be active participants. Second, all of the information is medically accurate. Lastly, they strive for LGBTQ inclusivity, which means using words like partners instead of boyfriend and girlfriend.
Prior to COVID-19, the organization’s only model was in-person instruction. Now, they’re delivering virtual education through video conferencing platforms. Whitehead said a challenge this year for Ntarupt is creating that safe and supportive environment.
“We don’t want to just sit there and talk. Young people are on the computer all day and we want to be able to break through their typical online learning experience. So we are still doing hands-on activities through virtual education,” she said.
Ntarupt recently launched an advocacy effort called “Texas Is Ready” along with Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Healthy Futures of Texas to encourage the Texas State Board of Education to expand the state’s sexual health education curriculum minimum standards.
Greenberg, the nonprofit’s CEO, said Ntarupt will continue to do the work until changes are made.