The positive response by Oklahomas youth to marriage and relationship education could be attributed to the fact that they encounter it just when they are actively dating or thinking about dating, and thus have an immediate interest in understanding how relationships work. However, good timing is not the only reason for its popularity. Other factors that appear to have contributed to the success of the OMIs healthy marriage services in high schools, and may be of interest to practitioners, include:
- A well-identified avenue for implementation. The chief explanation for the success of implementation appears to be that the educational system in Oklahoma was open to offering instruction in relationships and marriage, and the FACS system already had a marriage and family track on which the OMI could build. Although the curriculum was not well defined prior to the OMI, there was already a state-supported effort to provide information on the topic, and the new curriculum was seen as an enrichment of existing resources because it aligned well with the states required objectives. Teachers and staff did not need to be convinced of the value of delivering marriage and relationship skills education.
- Ready access to the youth population. Working through the public educational system eliminated the need for resources and extensive efforts to recruit youth and sustain their participation. Students typically sign up for the elective FACS classes because theyve heard about them through word of mouth, because they need to fill up their schedule with some kind of elective, or because it is written into their Individual Education Plan.
- Easily accessible training, materials, and support. Implementation in the high school system was facilitated by making it easy to become trained and obtain curriculum materials. Developing a curriculum that meets state educational standards and making it available to teachers free-of-charge removed most barriers they otherwise might have encountered in adopting the curriculum. In addition, the OMI provided convenient and accessible training by curriculum developers and offers ongoing technical assistance throughout the year should teachers need help with any issues related to delivery of the curriculum, thus simplifying the jobs of already-busy teachers.
Practitioners considering developing and implementing marriage and relationship education programs for youth may find it useful to ask themselves some key questions, including:
- Is your approach likely to be sustainable? Some efforts aim to reach youth by offering relationship education in after-school programs and other extracurricular activities. While a broad range of strategies is likely to be useful, embedding marriage education within the public educational system may be more likely to result in a long-term and self-sustaining effort.
- How much of the curriculum is likely to be provided? There may be a range of opportunities for providing marriage education within a given educational system for youth. Health, physical education, family and consumer sciences, and other programs may be candidates. It is useful to consider how much class time each of the alternatives would realistically devote to the marriage education curriculum.
- How will you avoid getting mired in a complicated and lengthy approval process? In Oklahoma, the FACS courses in which the OMIs marriage education is embedded are electives, thereby eliminating the need for a lengthy approval process, and avoiding any controversy that might have arisen as a result of mandatory education in marriage and relationships. The OMI was also careful to emphasize that marriage education is not sex education, a perception that could have raised concerns among parents and school boards.