OP-ED

Revised sex ed curriculum tackles
Peoria’s Third-World teen pregnancy rates
BY JOYCE HARANT
Three zip codes in Peoria have teen birth rates similar to those in developing countries. Those same zip codes, 61603, 61604 and 61605, have rates of sexually transmitted diseases that are two to four times higher than the overall rate in both Illinois and the nation. These zip codes have high levels of poverty, and most residents are people of color.
After decades of inaction and failed attempts to address these problems, the Peoria City/County Health Department set a priority four years ago to target these three zip codes with a plan to reduce STDs and teen pregnancy. The health department reached out to Peoria Public Schools and community social service agencies to collaborate.
Concurrently, after years of effort, the Illinois Legislature passed a law that any schools teaching sexuality education must provide accurate, comprehensive, science-based information. Mandating the curriculum must be accurate and factual shows how politically-charged sex education has been.
In 2014, members of this collaborative effort took off their institutional hats and focused on what was best for children. No important topic was avoided because of potential controversy. All information would be based on educational outcomes. The process would be transparent.
The Peoria Public Schools website listed this new curriculum for sixth and seventh grades. The curriculum was taught beginning in the fall of 2015. A youth advisory committee was established and is taking a leadership role in promoting healthy sexuality and safe relationships.
Some agencies in this collaboration applied for grant funding and others reallocated spending to teach students, train teachers and make this curriculum happen.
Five organizations and six people working collaboratively on this problem have recognized the civil liberties of children in this community to have access to science-based sexuality education.
Key people are:
Melissa Hall Adamson, director of community health policy and planning at the Peoria City/County Health Department. She has been the convener, problem solver and motivator to keep the collaboration together.
Monica Hendrickson, epidemiologist for the Peoria City/County Health Department, provided powerful graphics with the data that show the enormity of the health disparities in our community.
Maureen Langholf, director of special education at Peoria Public Schools, is the warrior who led the collaboration through a maize of schools, departments and people. She kept small fires from getting out of control. She always focused on what is best for students.
Holly Bill, lead senior health educator at the Hult Center for Healthy Living, coordinated writing the curriculum and scheduling the components for sixth and seventh grade classroom teachers.
Leah Royer, youth prevention counselor at Children’s Home Association of Illinois, is an experienced sexuality educator. I am biased since she received her first training through Planned Parenthood. Leah has long fought to provide accurate sex ed to students, and her experience helped shape the final curriculum.
Marcia Bolden, director of prevention services for the Center for the Prevention of Abuse, added her experience teaching about safe relationships and working with teachers and principals.
Let’s thank these women for standing up for an educational curriculum that will help young people living in Peoria’s inner cities to stay healthy and have positive attitudes toward sexuality and their responsibilities to themselves and to others.
This OpEd is a shortened version of an awards presentation made by Joyce Harant at the annual dinner of the Peoria Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to members of the sexuality education collaboration. Harant is president of the Peoria City/County Health Department and past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Heart of Illinois.

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