Having lived the majority of my life in the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost tip of the United States, every other American city seems completely different. Residents of McAllen and other nearby border towns often joke that the area is actually part of northern Mexico due to the powerful presence of Mexican culture and unique atmosphere.
Before working at Healthy Futures, I had no idea about all aspects of sex ed that most abstinence-plus curriculums teach and even those taught by abstinence-only curriculum, for that matter. Contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and the effects of unplanned pregnancies are all relatively vague concepts to many people like me from the RGV. Many may argue that it’s not an issue in the Valley, but the high rates of STIs and pregnancies demonstrated in the research article discussed below say otherwise.
When conducting research on the current state of sex education in the United States, I found it difficult to find any information about the RGV. The only mention was a small health program offered at the university level. However, I did find a research article written by Crystal Starkey that focuses on potential barriers to sex ed in the Valley. The article centered around the Valley’s birth rate, higher than both the state average and the national average. The lack of sex education programs was also highlighted, as less than two-thirds of its schools have some form of curriculum being used. The research was significantly lengthy and featured a variety of methodologies. In summary, findings suggested that parents have the greatest influence on the adoption of sex education programs in schools. The absence of knowledge on sex education by the parents and the fear of community opposition only adds to the hindrance of sex ed programs, as Starkey mentions. She concludes that there is a lack of communication between schools, parents, and adolescent healthcare providers.
I agree with the findings and interpretations of the study. I believe that parents have a powerful effect on what is deemed acceptable for young people, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley. It is difficult to change the mindsets of the conservative-minded older generation of the area and it will undoubtedly take time.
Traditions are prominent in the Valley and in order to change the foundation it begins with changing the perspectives of the parents that are in turn responsible for reconsidering the values being implemented in their respective households. It is the reason why programs like Key Conversations were particularly of interest to me when I first started at Healthy Futures. Allowing exposure to these kinds of curriculum will shift the perspectives, educate, and subsequently motivate parents to seek more interest in the curriculum being taught to students. I have found that many of the issues that young students face are often avoided in south Texas and I am convinced that the lack of knowledge is at the forefront of the issue.
The RGV cannot afford to continue to fall behind in terms of sex education, as it is a growing region filled with hardworking people that place a special emphasis on family.