The Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs Funded Under Title V Section 510: Interim Report . Most Participants Feel Favorably About Their Program Experience

04/01/2002

Youth tend to respond especially positively to programs when the staff are unambiguously committed to abstinence until marriage and when the program incorporates the broader goal of youth development.  Young teachers who are public about their own commitment to abstinence appear to be very successful in engaging program youth.  The Heritage Keepers Program in South Carolina, for example, uses teachers who demonstrate this unqualified endorsement of abstinence until marriage.  The program trains these teachers to be direct and to communicate their commitment to abstinence.  Observations during site visits suggest that committed and outspoken teachers are effective in capturing the attention of students and getting them to listen and question.

Most programs have limited resources and so must make trade-offs between the intensity and duration of services they provide each participant and the overall number of youth they serve.  As observed in classrooms and reported during focus groups, youth seem to respond especially favorably to the intensive programs because they are tailored to the developmental needs of youth and provide services and activities that go far beyond the classroom curricula.  These programs often include field trips, weekend activities, end-of-the-year celebrations, and local and national motivational speakers, all of which are geared to helping youth make informed choices about their behaviors.  During focus groups, students in one program reported that they are learning about goals; values; high and low self-esteem; high- and low-risk behaviors; good and bad consequences; responsibility; social skills; and abstinence from sex, drugs, and alcohol — and learning not to become a teen parent.

Not all programs have met with enthusiasm, however.  The less intensive programs, in particular, more often fail to engage students fully and encounter dissatisfaction among youth with program services.  Participants in one such program complained that the class was boring and was “just another class” that “didn’t offer much benefit.”  Students in another site acknowledged that some students make fun of the program’s slogan.