Local schools have closed down for the rest of the academic year in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. Following suit, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest's sexual education courses have moved online.
Marcy Clayson is the Community Engagement Manager in San Diego for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. At the time the schools closed, the department had just finished teaching 2/3 of the juniors at High Tech High in Chula Vista.
“We normally teach 150 juniors and had already taught 100,” Marcy said. “It would be a bummer if the last 50 kids missed it. The teacher still wanted us to be a part of their curriculum.”
The CHYA—the California Healthy Youth Act—mandates that comprehensive sex ed be taught in schools, which means that Planned Parenthood’s evidence-based curriculum is in high demand.
The Education department reached out to the state about teaching via Zoom and got the ok. The kids access our videos online, and the team also gives out a packet with activities and resources about sexual health, mental health, and tobacco and alcohol use.
High Tech High classes meet for an hour per sex ed class with 9 classes total, with approximately 23 kids per class.
“Two facilitators trade off teaching and monitoring the chat box,” Marcy said. “Maybe the students don’t feel comfortable asking a question out loud, or there might be people around them at the time, but they can ask in the chat box.”
Marcy said that virtual teaching gives them a sense of normalcy when nothing else feels normal.
“There is still banter between students in the chat box — they’re still joking around. There’s some sense of normalcy. And they do have access to our email for more private conversations with us.”
The Education team also teaches at City, Southwestern, and Palomar colleges in their Health or Human Sexuality classes, with classes going into more detail for college students.
“In high school, my goal is for them to know about condoms,” Marcy said. “We also talk about refusal skills and consent. In the college courses — where the students are getting tested on the material — we talk about birth control and STIs [sexually transmitted infections] in much greater depth, with statistics, and the ‘why’ of things, and about how birth control works in the body.”
Marcy said that teaching the classes on Zoom took a little time. “It took a little bit of training to know how to present, and there’s a tech challenge and a learning curve,” she said.
The success of the courses — and communication during it — can be dependent on the students’ access, including their home internet connections.
“Students have done pretty well,” Marcy said. “It pulled on my heartstrings, because a student was in the middle of asking a question and his internet connection was lost. He said that when his family runs the microwave, it affects everything else! It’s an interruption to their education, and there may be difficulties in their home — it’s not ideal.”
Students are living with parents, grandparents, or other family members who may be present for their sex ed coursework.
“In one class, I asked the question ‘Name 3 common sex practices,’ and the answer is anal, oral, and vaginal,” Marcy said. “The student I asked took a little longer to respond. Then she wrote the answer in the chat box and that she couldn’t answer aloud because her grandfather was in the room with her. I laughed along with the other students and said that’s totally ok, that I understood that it might be funny and odd for her grandfather to hear her answer ‘anal, oral, vaginal.’ I shared with my students that my grandmother was here in the next room too, and could hear me teaching. It’s important to normalize these topics with different generations.”
At Ideate high school — a charter school in downtown San Diego — the Education team had completed 5 out of 9 modules when students were sent home due to COVID-19 fears. The students were not going to be doing virtual learning, but learning from packets instead.
“We asked the administration if the students wanted to continue virtually, and they did! Even though they didn’t have to, they logged in with us at set times and dates. One of the students reached out to us that she was putting together a food bank for the school. It turns out that 50% of the Ideate families have lost their incomes. We still had the students’ snacks they’d already paid for, so we donated them to their food drive program. They let us know how appreciative they were, how important the sex ed classes are to them. The students are so engaged.”
Online classes are here to stay for the rest of the school year, and possibly longer. The Education team is also doing online professional trainings.
“People are finding time to learn, and brush up on skills, and there’s no cost to the trainings right now,” Marcy said. “The calendar has ramped up, and social media too. Any way we can provide education and resources to professors, organizations, people who work with clients and youth, we will.”
We are currently offering weekly professional trainings to the community at no cost. These trainings have been updated to include our current realities regarding providing support from a distance, and the impact of COVID-19 on reproductive and sexual health laws and policies. This is an opportunity for more organizations and teachers to receive professional trainings that will broaden access and education on topics like trauma-informed care and medically accurate, shame-free education.
To inquire about virtual sexual education courses or online trainings, contact [email protected]