Vail Daily column: Educate, discuss, repeat
The Red Ribbon Project is celebrating its 20th year of doing good work on behalf of youth and adults in Eagle County. Beginning in 1996 with a mission of bringing awareness to the issue of HIV and AIDS, its mission has evolved and broadened. The Red Ribbon Project promotes healthier lives by empowering the community to reduce teen pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
We are proud to be part of this great educational project. Together, we have over 70 years of experience working with kids. As parents, teachers, a counselor, a principal, a coach and volunteers, we have always empowered students with accurate information and encouraged them to make good decisions. Since retiring from Eagle County Schools in 2009 and 2012 respectively, our work with the Red Ribbon Project affords us the opportunity to continue to do this kind of work.
As instructors for the Red Ribbon Project, we teach fifth grade students, as requested by teachers and administrators, in all of the public elementary schools in Eagle County. We also teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students at Gypsum Creek Middle School, Eagle County Charter Academy, and Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. Our classes are sequenced and developmentally appropriate for each grade level, covering the following topics: physical, cognitive, social, and emotional changes during puberty; hygiene; the menstrual cycle; the importance of abstinence, especially during the middle school years; and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Students, especially in the fifth grade, usually arrive at our classes with some degree of anxious anticipation. They have been primed for “the talk” by their teachers and parents, and are understandably nervous about how the two-hour class is going to go. We find that by the end of the class, almost every student shows much greater comfort with the subject matter. It’s almost palpable; they start out quiet and nervously giggling when certain words are mentioned (and we always use the correct vocabulary), and halfway through the class, students are asking questions, using informed terminology, clarifying misunderstanding, and sharing their new insights.
Classes are taught separately for girls and for boys, although the content of the class is the same. Each year, the students are introduced to new information, and beginning in sixth grade, they receive a brief review of basic reproductive anatomy and the changes that occur during puberty. In seventh grade, the focus is on abstinence and why that would be personally important for each student. In eighth grade, we focus on sexually transmitted infections and diseases and again, on abstinence as being the only 100-percent sure way of preventing these as well as pregnancy. We always stress to the students that our job is not to tell them what to do. Our job is to provide them with accurate information so they can make good decisions to keep themselves safe and healthy.
It is truly our pleasure to be able to work with kids in this way. We always encourage them to ask their parents and/or other trusted adults for additional information, knowing that our presentation will probably stir up many questions long after we’ve left their classroom. For their teachers, it’s a chance to see their students learning relevant information from “outsiders,” so they can provide support later. For some, it’s a relief to watch someone else teach delicate subject matter.
Thanks to the Red Ribbon Project, thousands of students have benefited from the opportunity to learn about what is happening to their bodies as they move from being little girls and boys toward becoming adolescents and adults and how to keep themselves healthy, safe, and proud of the decisions they make concerning their sexual development.
Jerry and Robin Santoro live in Gypsum. To learn more about the Red Ribbon Project and its 20 years serving the valley, visit http://www.Red RibbonProject.org.