The lessons, taught to sixth and eighth graders, are based on a research-based curriculum from Advocates for Youth.
Middle school students in Iowa City have begun taking new courses on building healthy relationships and preventing sexual violence.
Classes are provided by the Rape Victim Advocacy Program and are intended for sixth and eighth graders. The recent change was made by an amendment passed by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, with the original program teaching classes to seventh and ninth graders.
RVAP deputy director Michael Shaw said one of the aims of the courses was to connect with students and provide them with resources.
“The other focus of our activities is to provide young people with information about communication, consent and romantic relationships, and what can be helpful ways to engage in these relationships that are safe and healthy for them,” Shaw said.
The reason lessons are now being given to younger students, Shaw said, is to get the information to students as early as possible.
“As we re-examine how to improve what we do and want to be more aligned to the program and provide [the school district] with the support they need to make sure that information gets to young people,” Shaw said.
Part of the effort to provide students with sex education is in tandem with United Action for Youth. The partnership allows the two groups to alternate the grade levels they work with so that students take regular sex education classes.
Shaw explained that the curriculum used comes from Advocates for Youth’s “3Rs”:
- Rights: “Young people have the inalienable right to honest information about sexual health. »
- Respect: “Young people deserve respect.
- Responsibility: “Society has a responsibility to provide young people with all the tools they need to protect their sexual health, and young people have a responsibility to protect themselves. »
The 3Rs curriculum is based on the National Standards for Sex Education, which are research-based standards for sexual health education, Shaw said.
According to the website of the US Sexuality Information and Education Council, which helped create the National Standards for Sex Education, the goal was to “provide clear, consistent, and direct guidance on the minimum essential content of sex education.” .
Funding for the classes comes from the Johnson County Juvenile Justice Development Program. The program has total funding of $400,000 for fiscal year 2023, of which $27,000 goes to RVAP for tuition.
Johnson County youth and family services manager Laurie Nash said the juvenile justice program and the funding it provides to groups like RVAP are part of the county’s longstanding commitment. to help local young people.
“We are thinking about who are some of the children most at risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system, and how can we provide them with learning opportunities, leadership opportunities, even just outside of the peer engagement time school for younger kids. children to promote that positive development early on before children become involved in any type of juvenile justice system,” Nash said.
The RVAP program — and other programs funded by Juvenile Justice Youth Development — benefits young people, Nash said.
“The reason they continue to invest is because the research and all the data shows that making those early investments makes more sense in the long run, both from a human perspective and also from a human perspective. financial, to have a better community in the future,” she said. “So we’re very excited to be able to continue doing that.”