Right now, students all across the country are headed back to class to kick off the new academic year. As families start to get back into the swing of their daily school routines, we have a perfect opportunity to make some noise (and some change!) for sex education.
Here are five steps you can take, right now, to advance sex education in your community. No matter where you live.
1. Do your homework.
In classic back-to-school fashion, the very first step to take toward advancing sex ed in you community is to learn what is currently being offered, or denied, to young people at school. Knowing this information will lay the groundwork for developing an effective strategy moving forward.
Research the answers to questions including:
- Is there a state mandate for sex education that dictates what sex educators are required to teach their students?
- Is there a district mandate or policy in place?
- Does your community’s school provide sex education courses based off of a particular curriculum? If so, what does it cover? What does it leave out?
- If sex ed courses are offered, where does the content come from? Is it evidence-based? Is it from a reliable or not-so-reliable source or organization?
2. Involve local organizations to do this work with you.
In many communities, there may already be local groups who care about, talk about, and even advocate for high quality, inclusive, and empowering sex education. There is power in numbers– so take advantage of partnering with groups and organizations who already have an interest in this issue. Some ideas for groups to engage include:
- Parent Teacher Association/Organization
- Teacher’s Union
- Youth serving organizations such as Girls, Inc., Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, YWCA, and recreation centers
- Student groups
- Civic organizations such as the Junior League
- Family planning clinics
- HIV/AIDS organizations
- Health care providers
- Faith-based organizations*
*Sometimes, people are initially taken aback when we suggest partnering with local faith-based organizations on sex ed-related activities. While it’s true some anti-sex education groups claim to oppose school-based sex ed on behalf of religious parents, groups, or beliefs, many faith-based groups are very helpful and supportive. Check out the Religious Institute for more information.
3. Get to know your school board.
Most sex ed decisions are made at the local level. As a result, you will likely spend most of your time as an advocate working with your local school board members. So get to know your school board! Contact each member personally. Ask about their educational priorities and their support for sex ed. Sometimes, the most effective way to do so is to simply attend a routine school board meeting and introduce yourself to members after the meeting is finished. From there, take the opportunity to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss sex education.
When you meet with school board members, bring your homework. Come prepared with information about the sex ed currently being offered and how and why you’re working to change it for the better. Encourage a wide range of community members to contact the school board. Just a few calls, letters, or emails can make a huge difference.
4. Reach out to your local policymaker(s).
Though it’s best to first work with local decision makers like school board members and school district staff, state and federal policymakers are integral in shaping requirements and limitations on sex ed through legislation, regulation, and guidance. So, educating these policymakers about sex ed is critical. Luckily, there are lots of ways to communicate with state and federal policymakers, including: sending a constituent email, calling your legislator’s office, and/or setting up an in-person meeting. When communicating with your policymaker, in any capacity, be sure to:
- Prepare a clear and concise message beforehand.
- Be able to back up your position with facts and personal anecdotes.
- Research their position on the issues and know your allies and opponents.
- If visiting their office with a group, decide each person’s role ahead of time. Identify a group leader who will kick off the visit and state the goals of the meeting
- Thank your policymaker for their time.
5. Get personal.
Statistics and research are powerful tools. However, local examples and personal stories will ensure that your messages truly stick. Through telling real stories that highlight the importance of sex education for all audiences, whether they are school administrators, parents, elected officials, or anyone else, we have an unparalleled opportunity to bring the facts, the expert opinions, and the arguments for sex education to life. Do you know a young person willing to share a story about how their lack of sex ed negatively impacted them? Are you a parent who was appalled to hear about the inaccurate, shame-filled lessons that your child learned as part of their health class? Or were you, yourself, personally impacted by sex education–or a lack thereof?
Storytelling matters. Not only are personal anecdotes persuasive, they also help contextualize the very real, very personal, very life-changing power of sex education.
Looking for a deeper dive on advancing sex education in your community? Take a look at SIECUS’ Community Action Toolkit for added information on the tips above and for more tactics to try, too.