It’s well known that Port Alberni has a high teen birth rate—but that’s not the only statistic that teacher Anne Ostwald’s high school Social Studies 10 class finds worrying.
“Zero per cent of Grade 12s said they’d had sex ed in high school,” said Maddie O’Neil-Johns, who is in Ostwald’s class.
That confirmed what fellow students had experienced.
“There’s nothing. It’s just about puberty,” said Bronwyn Zodichi.
Those statistics came about as the result of a survey of Grade 8-12 students at Alberni District Secondary School that Ostwald’s class did after the topic came up in class and the students realized just how problematic not getting any sex education was for teens.
“We just got onto the subject of sex ed and then got to thinking about how wow, this is kind of a big deal.”
“We really need to bring more of this into the school curriculum,” said Patricia Gust.
“We started doing research and found out how important it is.”
The statistics they uncovered on teen pregnancies and lack of sex ed, including issues of consent, cried out for help.
“People who have felt forced to do something sexual went up from six per cent in Grade 8 up to 27 per cent in Grade 12—that’s almost one in three Grade 12s feeling forced to do something sexual,” said O’Neill-Johns.
The social studies students think that it could be linked to the complete lack of sex ed that students receive—and that’s despite wanting more.
“Over 50 per cent of all the grades that we surveyed said they wanted pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control, legality and consent covered in sex ed.”
When Ostwald’s students heard half the students surveyed were asking for more education, they decided it was time to do something.
And so they did, taking a trip to Victoria to meet with provincial Ministry of Education representatives, as well as Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser (pictured with the class in his Victoria office).
The reactions were mixed.
“Suzanne [Hoffman, superintendent of education] was really for it, she really supported it,” said Hutchings.
“But Nick [Poeschek, curriculum and assessment coordinator] said we have everything, it’s just a matter of that the teachers aren’t teaching what they’re supposed to teach.”
While the education ministry is rolling out a new curriculum provincially, Ostwald’s students want to see more done for teens locally.
With Port Alberni’s teen birth rate sitting at three times higher than the provincial average, the class believes that this city is the perfect location for a pilot project.
“In Quebec they do a pilot program right now where they’re testing it to see if stats change and that’s what we want to get happening here,” said Hutchings.
According to the Quebec ministry of education, 15 schools are taking part in a pilot project to standardize sex ed from school to school.
“The students involved will represent all grade levels, from kindergarten for five-year-olds to the end of secondary school. Each year they will learn about new aspects of the subject appropriate to their age and level of development. They will receive from five to 15 hours of sexuality education per year,” a parents’ information brochure reads.
Ostwald’s students hope with a more comprehensive sex ed program—one that includes consent, birth control and LGBT issues—the teen birth rate will fall and that students will feel more confident in making the choices that are right for them.
“Our teen birth rate here is 104/1000 in Port Alberni and the province is 30/1000 whereas Denmark is 4/1000 and that’s with young sex ed. That’s something that we really looked at and focused on,” said O’Neill-Johns.
“We’re trying to get sex education into the curriculum as a regular classroom thing,” she said.
So far, ADSS’s management has been supportive and the class will pitch their idea to the SD70 school board at their June 7 meeting.