Dr. Elissa Barr, associate professor of public health in the Brooks College of Health at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, is among a handful of sex educators nationwide who came together to develop and release the National Teacher Preparation Standards on Sexuality Education, created to provide guidance to institutions of higher education in order to better prepare undergraduate physical and health education teachers to deliver sexuality education in school settings.
The recent Centers for Disease Control findings that report 80 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 have had no formal sex education before they have sex for the first time, certainly point to a missed opportunity for educators and community members to provide young people with the skills and tools to make healthy decisions about sex and relationships.
Barr is among 10 sexuality education professors from across the country that developed these national standards for sex education at the university level and is a co-author of "Improving Sexuality Education: The Development of Teacher-Preparation Standards," published this month in the Journal of School Health.
"Being part of such an important national initiative has been the highlight of my career. I am honored to have worked with some of the best sexuality educators and professional organizations in my field," said Barr. "Better preparing teachers to deliver quality sexuality education is critical, not only to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs/HIV, but to improve communication, relationships and sexual health in general."
The National Teacher Preparation Standards on Sexuality Education represent an unprecedented unified effort to better prepare undergraduate physical and health education students earning degrees at higher education institutions to provide high-quality comprehensive sexuality education that is developmentally, culturally and age appropriate. This is the first time specific standards for teachers have been developed in teaching sexuality education.
In the United States, sexuality education is most commonly taught within the health curriculum at the middle and high school levels. In addition to parents, America's teachers play a vital role in providing young people with the information they need to protect their health and futures. However, only 61 percent of colleges and universities require sexuality education courses for health education certification and nearly one-third of teachers responsible for sexuality education report receiving no pre-service or in-service training in this area.
"Providing instruction on sexual health education can be challenging. Teachers have the unique opportunity to directly impact the health of our youth, including their current and future relationships," said Barr, who has been studying adolescent sexuality and sexual health for more than 15 years. Her research addresses advocacy and policy to improve sexuality education to reduce risky sexual behaviors of youth.
The National Teacher Preparation Standards address seven broad professional areas, including professional disposition, diversity and equity, content knowledge, legal and professional ethics, planning, implementation and assessment. With these standards, teacher-preparation programs will be able to guide curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions among undergraduate students who will eventually be responsible for teaching sexuality education.
The development of the National Teacher Preparation Standards is part of the ongoing Future of Sex Education Initiative, a national project to improve sex education and reproductive health of the nation's youth (reduce STDs/HIV, teen pregnancy, rape/dating violence and improve relationships/communication). The initiative is led by three professional sex education organizations: Advocates for Youth, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and Answer.
The National Teacher Preparation Standards for Sexuality Education is currently available in the Journal of School Health. For more information on the teacher standards, visit http://www.futureofsexeducation.org.