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Endless Questions: Supporting My Daughters

Endless Questions: Supporting My Daughters

By Adrah Levin
Board Member, Epidemiologist, and mother of two
December 3, 2015

I love watching my daughters grow. There is nothing more special than watching them discover new things, play with each other, and explore their world, always coming to me with endless questions. Right now they can ask me anything! I know that one day soon, their curiosity about their bodies, relationships and sex will start to increase, and while I may be able to talk to them about these things, they may not always want to turn to me.

Adding a Youth 360 Lens to Our Work

Adding a Youth 360 Lens to Our Work

By Becca Bolden, Research and Evaluation Manager
November 11, 2015

I had the great opportunity to attend the 2015 Healthy Teen Network Conference last month, called Youth 360: Where Youth Live, Work and Play Matters. Conferences like this one allow our staff to network with and learn from other organizations and agencies across the country committed not only to teen pregnancy prevention but to promoting youth health and well-being in a holistic way, a framework that can be easy to lose sight of in the day-to-day work of grant deliverables and email requests. It’s so important to remember the big picture of why we do what we do, and how to make sure that big picture gets integrated into our daily tasks and projects.

The conference kicked off with Dr. Steve Perry, an innovative educator who is the founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut, as well as an Education Contributor for CNN and MSNBC. He spoke about the impact of growing up with a teen mom, and despite his career success, the immense amount of luck he had avoiding young parenthood himself. He urged the audience to consider the fact that we also may have been lucky to have avoided teen parenthood, which I think came as a bit of a surprise to attendees at first. It makes sense that we tend to get caught up in our world of prevention that using a condom every time or getting an IUD or implant may seem like an obvious and beyond-easy choice for every single young person, regardless of their circumstances. Beyond simple – especially when you have fantastic and effective programs like the Colorado Family Planning Initiative in our home state.

But maybe that’s not the case. 

The Most Important Condom Demo

The Most Important Condom Demo

By Stefanie Slade Winfield, Colorado Youth Matter Senior Capacity Building Manager
September 30, 2015

I am no stranger to talking about sex.

Throughout my career, I have trained countless educators to teach sex ed. I have waxed poetic on the benefits of talking to youth about sex and answering all their questions, and have taught facilitators to coach parents on how to use teachable moments to initiate these important conversations with their children. I have shared with parents, friends and even strangers in the supermarket the importance of answering questions honestly and accurately. However, when I recently had the opportunity to share this information with members of my own family, I wondered if I really could practice what I preached and answer questions in value-neutral and supportive way – the way I teach others to do it.

A few weeks ago, I left from a Saturday Get Real Training of Facilitators to spend the night at my in-laws house where my nieces and their parents were visiting from Kentucky. When I went to my car later that afternoon to grab my overnight bag and saw the safer sex box I had received at the training, a light sparked for me. I asked my sister-in-law if she wanted to go through the box with me and her 2 daughters and was slightly surprised and extremely delighted that she said yes. My nieces are 17 and 15, and the younger is in the midst of her first romantic relationship. We all realized this was exactly the right time.

Spotlight on... Mary Jane Cassalia, CDPHE Youth Health Specialist

Spotlight on... Mary Jane Cassalia, CDPHE Youth Health Specialist

This month we want to take the time to spotlight the great work of one of Mary Jane Cassalia, Youth Health Specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), who has done a great job leading statewide efforts improving the quality and accessibility of sexual health services for young people in Colorado. Read on to find out more about Mary Jane and how you can get involved with the great work she is doing.

Briefly describe your background and how you got to your current position as Youth Health Specialist at CDPHE.

Sexual health has been a passion of mine since college and I have been fortunate to be able to follow this passion into a career. I began at a non-profit women’s clinic in Boulder, which led to graduate school and various internships, research and evaluation related to prevention and then my current role at CDPHE. Overall I am pursuing a career that will positively affect the health sector from multiple approaches, while continually partnering with direct services. I am motivated to help Coloradans make healthy choices and lead healthy lives. I am hoping that my work will help increase not only access to healthcare, but attitudes about it as well. Being at CDPHE and part of the group of talented and dedicated group of folks working to improve youth sexual health has been a highlight of my career thus far. As I embark on the next phase of my career (nursing), I look forward to seeing where my passions take me!

How to Encourage Young People to Undergo STI Testing

Guest blog post by Aimee King

One of the most difficult aspects of educating young people about sexual health is conveying the need for regular testing for STIs. As a recent university graduate who became involved in helping to educate people on this topic at school, this is something that's become clearer and clearer to me in recent years. Unfortunately, I've come to believe through my own experience that our society suffers from a deeply imperfect sexual education system whereby some young people are given so many warnings they end up scared of sex, and others are so inadequately prepared that they may not know how to protect themselves. But one thing that remains common for young people on both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between, is this: there's a scary and humiliating stigma attached to the idea of getting tested. Unlike when one gets a check-up for a common illness or something of the like, the idea of getting tested for an STI is unfortunately attached all to often to the idea that one is sexually reckless, or "dirty." Young people are occasionally hesitant to get tested simply because they don't want to project these unfair associations.

So how, as an educator or trusted adult, can you help to eliminate this stigma and persuade a young person that testing is not only necessary and healthy, but normal? Here are a few ideas of the approaches that can be most helpful.

Connecting Social and Emotional Learning with Sexual Health

Connecting Social and Emotional Learning with Sexual Health

I am Ruthie Kolb, the new Training Manager at Colorado Youth Matter, and I happy to be joining the team. In my previous career as a high school math teacher, I was once asked at a conference with fellow teachers to brainstorm 5 characteristics we hope students, once they exit our classrooms and the educational system, have to begin adulthood. We responded with strong character attributes, not academic achievements. Sure, we wanted our students to remember what we taught them – to use proper grammar in their cover letters and apply arithmetic to their finances. But in our wildest dreams, we were teaching them something more, something illusive, a little je ne sais quoi. My dream list looked like this:

ruthie blog image1

In fact, despite the difficulties facing researchers to define and measure intangibles, a study at the Virginia Commonwealth University found in 2010 that emotional intelligence was a greater predictor of a person’s working success than their IQ. Formerly, social and emotional intelligences were considered unteachable personality characteristics. People were either born with umpf, people skills, perseverance, and responsibility or they weren’t. 

But what if these were not set-in-stone characteristics, but rather trainable skills? What if we could write curricula in such a way that we were directly and indirectly teaching these personal attributes along with reading, writing, and arithmetic? What if, by mixing person-building and academic coursework, the students who formerly struggled academically began improving in all areas of their lives?

Proposed Federal Legislation Supporting Expectant and Parenting Students

Proposed Federal Legislation Supporting Expectant and Parenting Students

Supporting pregnant, expectant and parenting students is a vital aspect to improving youth sexual health outcomes and ensuring that all young people can reach their full potential. Title IX is meant to protect students’ education rights, including those that are expectant and parenting, but often falls short of doing so for this population, and as a result many young women cite pregnancy and parenthood as a reason for leaving school and delaying or not completing their education.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has announced plans to introduce an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), the Senate’s bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), that will require State and Local Education Agencies to create and implement plans to provide services and support to expectant and parenting students. We are pleased to see a step forward in national legislation that will increase accountability for supporting the unique educational needs of these students.

2015 Legislative Session in Review: Youth Sexual Health in Colorado

2015 Legislative Session in Review: Youth Sexual Health in Colorado

As the dust settles after an uphill 2015 legislative session, we would like to take a moment to reflect on challenges, successes and the road ahead. A divided Colorado House and Senate resulted in a session slowed down by gridlock and partisanship. By the end of the session, legislators had approved fewer bills than any term in the past four years. There were several opportunities to promote the health and well-being of Colorado youth through policy reform and the introduction of new legislation and unfortunately, most of these important initiatives were defeated. Most remarkably, the Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) bill, legislation with bi-partisan sponsorship, was defeated in the Senate State, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee. This bill would have extended funding for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program that provides long-acting reversible contraceptive to underserved teens and women at a free or reduced cost. While it is incredibly disheartening that legislation with clear fiscal and health benefits was defeated, we were inspired and encouraged by the many legislative champions and community advocates who showed up in support of it. We are not giving up and will continue to advocate for programs that work because we know how important it is to ensure that youth have access to the most effective forms of birth control as a part of their sexual health.

Spotlight on... Sarah Nickels, CDPHE School Health Specialist

Spotlight on... Sarah Nickels, CDPHE School Health Specialist

This month we want to take the time to spotlight the great work of Sarah Nickels, School Health Specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), who has done a great job leading efforts to support the implementation of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Read on to find out more about Sarah, and how you can get involved with the great work she is doing.

Briefly describe your background and how you got to your current position as School Health Specialist at CDPHE.

As a social worker, I am fortunate to have worked in a variety of roles in public health, education, health care and nonprofit organizations. The common thread that has guided my career has been my passion for promoting positive youth development, social justice and health equity. In 2011, I joined the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to implement a multi-state project designed to improve the quality of care in school-based health centers. While in that role, I completed my doctorate in social work with a goal of helping people understand and use data to improve social and health outcomes. In November, 2014, I became the School Health Specialist, a perfect opportunity to put my social work, public health and research skills to work!

Act NOW to Save the HKCS Survey!

Act NOW to Save the HKCS Survey!

Members of Colorado’s State Board of Education are still trying to do away with the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a voluntary and anonymous survey conducted in schools across Colorado that provides statewide information about the status of youth health and well-being. The survey is conducted every two years and is supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS).

Over 40,000 randomly-selected youth in 224 middle and high schools throughout the state participated in the 2013 survey. This participation rate was great! It meant that we had enough data to make educated assumptions about the health behaviors – both risks and resiliencies – of most young people across the state. This, in turn, helps us target funding for programs, education, and services to reach the greatest number of youth with the greatest need.

Spotlight on... Rae Laser, Manager of Community Outreach

Spotlight on... Rae Laser, Manager of Community Outreach

First off tell me about how you got involved in the sexual health field and what brought you to Colorado Youth Matter…

Well, I’ve worked with and for youth since I was a youth from after-school programs for at-risk kids and summer camps. I landed at a homeless teen center in Salt Lake City and the misinformation they had about sex, pregnancy and STI’s was scary. When I moved to Denver I was looking for an organization where I could mix my passion for youth leadership development and the importance of sexual health knowledge together and Colorado Youth Matter was the perfect fit.

What 3-5 words would you use to describe your personality?

Direct, honest, humorous, talkative and outgoing

CREATE Council at National Voter Registration Day

CREATE Council at National Voter Registration Day

Check out this great blog by CREATE Council Member Emma Griffin-Derr about youth getting out the vote this election season!

On National Voter Registration Day (September 23rd), thousands of volunteers across the country gathered in areas such as the mall, school campuses, bus stops, and concert venues to register voters in time for the upcoming state elections. Among these volunteers was Katie Raitz; a friendly and knowledgeable representative of Colorado Youth Matter’s CREATE Council. Katie greeted students on Colorado University’s busy campus and talked to them about the importance of voting.

“It’s essential that millennials vote because laws are being made as we speak, and it’s so important to take part in making them. I do voter outreach because it’s a statistic that the younger you start voting, the more likely you are to be a lifelong voter. I love doing it on my college campus because it’s such an abundant community of young people with compelling voices that need to be heard.”

Being an Askable Adult - A Primer

Being an Askable Adult - A Primer

We hope you enjoy this guest blog post by Bree Ervin with tips for Let's Talk Month!

Talking to kids about sex can be hard. Many of us missed out on the sexual health education we wish for, or were raised by parents who were uncomfortable having “the talk.” Talking to other people’s children about sex and sexuality can multiply that discomfort – how do you handle different values, how do you judge how much information to provide, how much is too much, how little is too little?

This post hopes to offer a brief primer to help make the job of talking to any kids, but especially other people’s kids, about sex and sexuality a little easier.

Whether you are a teacher tasked with providing comprehensive sexual health education or just the “cool” parent on the block who is known for having an open door and an open mind, it is important to know how to handle questions about sex and sexuality respectfully and appropriately.

Let's Talk about "It"

Let's Talk about

We hope you enjoy this guest blog post by Cori DePue about Let's Talk Month!

I’ve always been the sensitive and inquisitive member of the family- the one with lots of questions, lots of emotion, and the one to openly approach all topics of conversation with little discomfort. So, it was no surprise that at an early age, I began to inquire about the ultimate, most cringe-worthy, heart-stoppingly awkward topic with my mother, much to her dismay. What’s a condom? How many holes do I have? What are they all there for? Hey Mom, can you tell me what crabs are? Every question I asked (about sex), she evaded, or left me with as little information as possible. My sweet mother is no different than a majority of the parents out there today, but these conversations are so important to engage in, and the sooner they get brought to the table, the better.

October is “Let’s Talk Month”, a national campaign that focuses on encouraging and helping parents communicate with their children about issues related to sexuality. It serves as an annual reminder to parents that there is no better time than now to rip off the band-aid and engage your kids on the dreaded “sex talk”.

Spotlight on... Stefanie Winfield, Evaluation Manager

Spotlight on... Stefanie Winfield, Evaluation Manager

First off tell me about how you got involved in the sexual health field and what brought you to Colorado Youth Matter…

I was lucky to grow up in a home were sexuality was just another dinner conversation. It was a long time before I realized not everyone was that lucky and many of my peers were mis or under-informed. I got involved in the sexual health field in college during the HIV/AIDS crisis and was sparked to action after reading ‘And the Band Played On.’ That led to doing HIV/AID research and education in Nigeria and Malawi, first as a student and then as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After working at a few Denver non profits, I was thrilled to find this position at Colorado Youth Matter that combined so many of my passions and interests: sexual health and education, evaluation, working with communities.

What 3-5 words would you use to describe your personality?

Optimistic, direct, friendly

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