By Bill Bentley, Family and Youth Services Bureau Associate Commissioner
On the first day of a teen pregnancy prevention class at the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, teachers noticed a pair of quiet teens who had trouble paying attention to the lessons.
Staff member Erin Addington soon learned that the brother and sister were the oldest siblings in a large single-parent home. Right away, Addington suspected their experience had prepared them for leadership without them even realizing it.
Turns out, she was right.
After the teen pregnancy course had ended, the brother and sister participated in a six-month leadership seminar with a select group of their classmates. The seminar and leadership councils it prepares youth for are part of Teen Health Project, the evidence-based comprehensive sex education and prevention program the coalition uses as a grantee of FYSB’s Personal Responsibility Education Program.
As leadership council members, the two siblings were charged with educating other teens in their community about sexual health through awareness campaigns and neighborhood events. Soon, the brother and sister were meeting with Florida legislators to talk about leadership and public engagement.
The teens’ journey from the back of the classroom to the state house might not be what some people expect from an adolescent pregnancy prevention program. But PREP takes a holistic approach, incorporating adulthood preparation topics and youth empowerment into programming. For the coalition, that means giving young people structured leadership opportunities.
Addington, the coalition’s Teen Health Project director, says many of the program’s participants come from small communities and families where teen pregnancy is not unusual. Joining a leadership council is a chance for young people to see a world beyond their immediate surroundings and recognize their full potential, she says, which can help them develop healthier lifestyles and behaviors.
Youth also become part of the solution, planning teen pregnancy prevention activities meant to appeal to their peers.
Of the brother and sister she told us about Addington said, “Over time they blossomed from into real examples of what kind of potential these young people have. We’re amazed how much they have matured and grown over such a short period of time. They are both very smart and thoughtful and active in the program and have very bright futures ahead of them.”