April 2009 – Whoever thought of teaching abstinence as the positive means to a desired end? Scott Phelps, executive director of the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership (A&M Partnership) did.
That’s why he leads an organization that “exists to ensure that every teenager in the country has the opportunity to hear a clearly reasoned, positive presentation on the benefits of abstinence until marriage and practical instruction on preparing for a healthy future marriage.”
Research concludes that 9 in 10 high school students believe it’s important to have a good marriage and family life, but they are skeptical of marriage due to the culture’s negative view of this sacred institution and the absence of healthy marriage models.
According to a study by Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox titled “A Scientific Review of Abstinence and Abstinence Programs,” “ … the erosion of the norm of premarital sexual abstinence, both in belief and behavior, appears to have played an important role in the weakening of American family life and, in turn, some of the nation’s most pressing social problems.”
Therefore, A&M Partnership functions to teach abstinence in tandem with marriage.
“Restoring the institution of marriage begins by intentionally teaching teens that abstinence is one of the best ways to prepare for a healthy future marriage,” as stated in the partnership’s brochure.
Below, Phelps talks more about A&M Partnership.
AFA Journal: Tell me about Project Reality and A&M Partnership.
Scott Phelps: Project Reality started in 1985 and was one of the first national abstinence movements to start providing abstinence education programs for public schools. I worked for Project Reality for five years, from 1999 to 2004. Then in 2004, I started A&M Partnership. In January 2009, Project Reality merged with A&M Partnership. Now we provide curricula to schools all around the country in all 50 states, and we’re one of the leading providers of abstinence education program materials.
AFAJ: Tell me about the curricula.
SP: The first curriculum project I worked on was authoring the book titled A.C. Green’s Game Plan. Then I followed with another book called Navigator; then we did the Excel program, the Aspire program, and now coming out in March is the Quest program. Excel is for churches and Christian schools. The others are for public schools.
AFAJ: So most of your work is in public schools?
SP: Yes. A lot of public schools are teaching kids things that are contrary to many parents’ values and beliefs. We offer schools an alternative program to teaching contraception. We teach kids the benefits of waiting until they’re married to have sex. Teaching kids about abstinence and marriage needs to be taught in tandem. It’s not enough just to talk to them about abstinence. So our goal is to give them good scientific objective information on the tangible benefits of marriage.
AFAJ: Is your message welcomed in public schools?
SP: There are some schools that don’t want us in, and they don’t have us. The schools that we are in are schools that want to have us. There are schools all over the country that are very eager to teach programs like this. But because we’re in public schools, we can’t go in with a Christian message. We can go in with a clear health message that abstinence from all sexual activity outside of marriage is the safest, healthiest choice they can make and the best way to reach their future goals and dreams. But all truth is God’s truth.
AFAJ: Highlight some of the main points from the curricula.
SP: We start off with goal setting. Then we talk about media influences, relationship skills and marriage.
AFAJ: What makes up the curricula?
SP: An 88-page workbook with different classroom activities, illustrations and role plays. Some have some PowerPoints, and some video material. They vary, but the whole point of each curriculum is to engage the kids and give teachers a tool that will allow for a really healthy interactive discussion that’s objectively based.
AFAJ: What is the target age?
SP: Middle school and high school.
AFAJ: About how long does it take to complete a program?
SP: A typical abstinence course is going to be delivered as part of a health education curriculum. A 9th- or 10th-grader is going to have a health class for one semester, and part of that health class might be 5, 10, or 15 class periods dedicated to the subject of abstinence. All of our curricula are eight chapters long, so our programs are designed to be 8 to 16 days – one or two classes per chapter.
AFAJ: What is your response to studies that claim abstinence programs don’t work and should not be funded?
SP: If something isn’t working well, you don’t stop doing it; you do more of it, and you try to do it better. For example, if students aren’t getting good reading scores, you don’t stop teaching reading in schools. You do more. So when people say that abstinence programs don’t work – even if it were true, which it is not – the conclusion wouldn’t be to stop teaching abstinence. You need to teach more of it, and you need to do it better.
AFAJ: Do you see more genuine commitments to abstinence the longer students are exposed to the material?
SP: What we do see is the more access we have to the kids, the more time we have to communicate the message to them, the more likely they are to embrace it. But I’m not taking anything away from one-time abstinence events because those are valuable in and of themselves. Our kids are living in a world filled with lies. When they hear a good speaker who gives a very clear, crisp message on the benefits of waiting until marriage it can really make a difference in their lives because it’s such a sharp contrast to what they’re normally hearing. But if you’re going to give me 8 or 10 more weeks to help them understand not only the “why” but the “how” behind it, that can only improve their receptivity to the message.
AFAJ: So how do you teach abstinence?
SP: Abstinence needs to be communicated as the positive message that it is. Abstinence tends to have a negative connotation, but it’s not a negative message. It’s a positive message about protecting your future goals and dreams. So if it’s presented in that way, kids will embrace it.
AFAJ: How can someone be trained to use your material?
SP: We provide one- and two-day training seminars all over the country on what the abstinence message is and how to teach it effectively by walking participants through the materials and giving them ways to actively engage the students. We also have a series of “Restoring the Dream” conferences led by speakers such as Glenn Stanton, Maggie Gallagher and Rozario Slack. We’ve done these day-long seminars in nine different large cities on the importance of teaching marriage to teenagers
AFAJ: Who attends training seminars?
SP: Schoolteachers – we have a lot of health teachers, physical education teachers, family and consumer sciences teachers. We have representatives from pregnancy care centers who come to learn how to counsel toward abstinence in their center as well as how to go into their local public middle schools and high schools and teach it. Then sometimes we’ll have youth pastors and parents come. But mainly our audience is schoolteachers and speakers who go into schools.
AFAJ: What immediate goals does A&M Partnership have?
SP: Our greatest challenge right now is to get our programs to be more widely used in churches and Christian schools. We have more acceptance and much wider distribution in public schools than we do in Christian schools. Part of it is they don’t know about us. But part of it is they feel, in some cases, they are already covering abstinence. And a lot of abstinence programs that have been designed for public school use aren’t always appropriate for a church or Christian school. So what we’ve tried to do with our Excel program is specifically tailor a program to the church and Christian school. It’s a Bible study based on the life of Joseph.
AFAJ: How can our readers help?
SP: We’re a non-profit organization, so donations are very much a need of ours. But having your readers become aware of our programs and telling their local Christian schools, public schools and churches about our programs would be really helpful. For more information, they can go to our Web site, www.ampartnership.org, or call 877-290-9248.