Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): Starting Early: How the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative Helps Schools Prepare Young People for Healthy Marriages. How Does the OMI Reach Youth?


Because so many Oklahomans marry prior to age 20,(3) the OMI team determined that helping young people prepare for marriage would require reaching them in their adolescent years. Rather than devising a curriculum on its own and then seeking youth organizations to implement it, OMI staff approached the institution that has the most consistent contact with adolescents  the public high school system  to engage schools as partners.

Working together, the OMI and the state Department of Career and Technology Services found elements of the public educational system on which they could build. Students in Oklahoma high schools, as in other states, were already offered several elective courses under the broad rubric of Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS), including a Marriage and Family Life course that addressed marriage and relationships. The states career and technology education system, CareerTech, provides instructional support such as access to curricula and training, and technical assistance for FACS teachers. Each FACS course has to meet state-approved standards, but teachers have the flexibility to design their own materials and choose supplementary curriculum material. While the broader FACS umbrella encompassed numerous areas of concentration, the Marriage and Family Life course was the most promising for future partnership.

Several available curricula were considered and determined to be unsatisfactory for the OMI youth component. Prior to OMI involvement, FACS teachers were working with a curriculum developed by the State Bar Association, but it focused on the legal aspects of relationships and marriage and did not include skills training. CareerTech and the teachers were open to considering other curriculum alternatives as long as they met state standards.

To improve on the curricula in use for high school students, the OMI also had to look beyond its statewide marriage education curriculum, PREP®, because it was not designed for adolescents. The Connections curriculum, developed by Charlene Kamper, a California-based high school teacher and certified family life educator, with its focus on skills-based education and information about relationships and marriage, held the most promise. To create some consistency with PREP®, the authors of Connections and PREP® were asked to work together to enhance Connections to incorporate key concepts in PREP® - an increased focus on communication and conflict management skills.

A two-year development process resulted in Connections+PREP®, a curriculum in two parts designed for younger and older adolescents. The first part, Dating and Emotions, offers a 17-hour curriculum for grades 8-12, and the second part, Relationships and Marriage, is an 18-hour curriculum for grades 11-12 and the first two years of college.(4)  OMI staff later asked Kamper to develop a supplemental lesson for the latter curriculum, focused on child support issues and the real-life responsibilities of parents who divorce or have a child out-of-wedlock.

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