Listening to the Community Helps Choctaw Nation Fight Teen Pregnancy

Image of Native American teens smiling.Funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau is enabling the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to battle teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in two rural counties with some of the highest teen birth rates in the state.

The federally recognized Tribe, which extends over 10 ½ counties, is using its $412,000 Personal Responsibility Education Program grant to put in place an evidence-based curriculum at three public middle schools in Choctaw County and at Jones Academy, a residential school for Choctaw students in Pittsburg County. FYSB’s 3-year Tribal PREP grants enable Tribes and Tribal communities to develop and implement culturally relevant, comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Christi Hammons, who directs the Choctaw Nation’s PREP grant, says listening to teens and parents has guided the Tribe’s approach to launching its teen pregnancy prevention program.

“By talking to high school students, we felt we really were too late for some students,” says Hammons of focus groups they held. “High school students told us if they would have known more about how to prevent teen pregnancy and STDs at an early age, they would have done things differently.”

That feedback led to the Tribe’s decision to teach the Draw the Line/Respect the Line sexual health curriculum to 6th through 8th graders.

“Hopefully we can catch them at that age so we can educate them about risky behaviors,” Hammons says, and make them less likely to have risky sex.

Choctaw Nation also  listened to parents’ concerns. Hammons says some local parents are reluctant to let their children learn about sex at school, and feel home is the place for sexual health instruction. For that reason, students will opt into the program, and an eighth-grade lesson on using condoms will be taught at a community center, instead of at school.

Hammons and other Choctaw Nation staff will meet with parents before the lesson, go over the demonstration with them, and provide incentives—a gift card for students who attend and a gas voucher for parents, so they can get their children to the center.

“The important thing is to get them there,” she says.