ILWACO - With a state-mandated HIV/STD education program at Ocean Beach schools fast approaching, the also mandatory parent preview of class materials was held Wednesday night at Ilwaco High School.
The preview night is the chance for parents to look over the "KNOW" curriculum, used by all middle and high schools in the state, and decide if they wish their children to be a part of the three-day class. In order to excuse their child from the program, they must attend the preview and sign them out.
The "KNOW" curriculum, an HIV/STD prevention guide, came out in 1988 and is designed to meet the requirements of both the AIDS Omnibus Act, of the same year, and requirements for instruction about sexually transmitted diseases.
Dot Gramson, school health coordinator for the Ocean Beach School District, has been teaching the "KNOW" program for many years.
"We talk to the kids about making good choices with their life," said Gramson of the basics of the program, "things that will prolong their life."
The "KNOW" program, which starts in 5th grade and is taught through the senior year of high school, is not a sexual education class. Rather, it is a course based on equipping students with basic knowledge of HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and how to protect themselves from these things.
Abstinence and saying no to peer pressure are keys to the education offered.
"I think that's one of the biggest thing we talk to kids about," said Gramson, "When I talk to the kids, first I'm a mom, and I want them to know what I would feel as a mom, and I tell them that, too."
The concentrated curriculum is set up to be like a yearly refresher course on the subject matter.
"Every year you teach it, you go in there and ask 'What's HIV? What's abstinence?'," said Gramson of how she approaches the students at the start of the program, "Some kids remember, some kids don't. I like to see where they're coming from. I like to see their knowledge base before we dive into it."
Though the class is packed with information from books, videos and guest speakers, is one period a day for three days enough?
"That's what is required by the state," Gramson said. "Yeah, we should probably spend all year on it, every day talking to the kids. But in reality, there's not that much time ... I think the whole prevention thing has to begin at home."
Some parents agree, and go further by saying that this kind of education is solely the responsibility of the parents.
One parent at the preview, who asked that her name not be used, said her family's values preclude her two high schoolers from attending the "KNOW" classes.
"We talk about it at home," said the woman, "We have literature that we work with them at home. I just feel that the home is where I would like them to get this information. I just feel its more appropriate."
The need for HIV/STD prevention education is undeniably necessary, whether it be at school or at home.
The HIV virus was first identified in the United States in 1981. By July 1994, over 361,000 cases of AIDS had been reported in America. By the year 2000, it is estimated that 30 to 40 million people were infected since the start of the epidemic.
When speaking of the "KNOW" program, nurse Gramson recalls a funny but telling story that she plans on using as an example in the future
"They made timelines last year and kids can be really funny. 'How old are you now?'" asked Gramson, "And say they're 16. Then you say, 'How old do you think you have to be before you stop having sex?' And some will say 50, some say 80. And so from 16 to 50, it's like 34 years - do you have to be in a rush for this?" Gramson laughs.