A comprehensive sexuality education program in Bamberg County, SC has effectively reduced the county's teen pregnancy rate. The program, which began in 1982, is based at the Denmark-Olar Teen Life Center and is an intensive program that offers classes as well as individual counseling sessions and outreach to parents.
The program was recently written about in the American Journal of Health Education and the Wall Street Journal , both of which credit the program for the county's dropping teen pregnancy rate, which is quickly falling below the national and state average. Between 1982 and 2004, Bamberg County's pregnancy rate has fallen by nearly two-thirds among young women ages 15 to 19, and now has one of the lowest rates in the state. This is despite the fact that it is one of the poorest counties in South Carolina— more than a quarter of the families live below the poverty line.1 A neighboring county with similar demographics, but without a similar program, has not had a corresponding drop in their teen pregnancy rate.
The program was developed in 1982 by Murray Vincent, a professor at the University of South Carolina's School of Public Health, with a $50,000 federal grant. The purpose of the grant was to design an intensive teen pregnancy prevention program. Initially this included distributing contraception, however the program was prohibited from doing so in 1986 by state lawmakers who banned the distribution of all contraceptives on school property throughout the state.
The program relies on a mix of in-classroom and outside activities. The classes include 45 minute life skills sessions and lessons on healthy relationships, self-esteem, abstinence, and contraception, which are integrated into the school curriculum. The classes begin in the third grade and every student attends 36 classes per year. In seventh grade, students learn detailed information about reproduction, the most common STDs, and abstinence. In eighth grade, these classes are supplemented by lessons on contraception and how to use condoms. The program also includes partnerships with the local business community, including outreach at local beauty shops, laundromats, and barber shops as well as sleepovers and get togethers for young people. In addition, the program actively reaches out to young men. Johnell Rice, who hands out condoms at his barber shop, says, “I tell them this protects you against AIDS and babies, too. It's gonna take away all your fun time, your younger years, and her younger years if you don't protect yourself.”2
The program is funded mostly through a combination of federal and state Medicaid dollars as at least 80 percent of the school district's student body qualifies for Medicaid. Students who qualify for Medicaid are also able to receive one-on-one counseling.
Michelle Nimmons, leader of the program states, “we don't send our troops to Iraq with rubber bullets, and we shouldn't send our kids out into a society driven by sexual innuendo without information and skills.”3
- Betsy McKay, “Winning the Battle on Teen Pregnancy,” Wall Street Journal, 22 July 2006, accessed 22 August 2006, <www.wallstreetjournal.com>.